By Russell Lindquist
November 27, 2011 (Santee) -- La Mesa's own Bob Berry was one of three wood carvers who met patrons of the Mission Trails Regional Park's 14,000 sq. ft visitors' and interpretive center, last weekend, Saturday, Nov. 19. Joining Berry was John Rieger, as well as two-time world champion Del Herbert. The trio, which combines for about a century of wood-carving experience, chatted with visitors at the center about the craft of wood-carving while providing a live demonstration.
Before he began wood carving, Berry worked for 20 years at a taxidermy studio. In the early 80's, a customer brought a duck to the studio that he asked Berry to mount onto some wood. Later, the customer brought Berry a piece of wood, saying, "I bet you could make a duck out of this; you have a lot of ducks around you in this studio--just use them as a guide." Drawing only on his frame-of-reference as a taxidermist, Berry carved the wood into the shape of a duck.
For years, Berry carved using only wood, but in 1989 the San Diego Zoo commissioned him to carve two life-sized gorilla statuesout of bronze. According to Berry, he had pitched himself to a panel for the project by showing them a gorilla's head that he had carved from wood, promising that his skills could transfer to metal. He got the commission.
To prepare for the endeavor, Berry says that he went to a museum in Milwaukee that had, in its freezer, the cadaver of a gorilla that had recently died at a local zoo. After his success with bronze sculpting for the San Diego zoo, Berry lent his skills to the many bronze animal-statues which surround the visitors' center at Mission Trails.
Bob Berry's father, Darold, was in the Navy, so Bob traveled a lot as a kid, before settling in La Mesa where he grew up, attending Helix high school and then Grossmont College, before being drafted in 1968 to serve in Vietnam for the US Army.
Berry and his wife, Kim, have two boys: Brett and Matt.
Upcoming, the three wood-carvers look forward to the 2012 California Open, a wood-carving competition which Pacific Southwest Wildlife Arts will host at the McMillin Events Center in Liberty Station, Point Loma. For information on the event, visit www.pswa.net.
The Mission Trails Regional Park visitors' center is open every day, 9 a.m.to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. For more information about the center, visitwww.mtrp.org.