Carl Borst isn’t exactly a household name among the neatly manicured homes along South Wescott Avenue.
Locally, people might recognize the 78-year-old retired Rotterdam man’s name from his old business, Borst Oil and Tire in Clifton Park. But few realize he’s an acclaimed woodcarver who is recognized internationally.
“You go three doors down the street and I doubt they even know I carve,” he said with a smile.
When a student of Austria’s top woodcarving school wanted help improving his skills, he came to train under Borst. And when a group from Troy was looking for an experienced carver to finish a 7-foot-tall wooden statue of Uncle Sam for the city, they tapped Borst’s skilled hand.
Borst was sought out to carve one of the nearly two dozen 52-inch wooden animals for the Adirondack Carousel project in Saranac Lake. He’s now completed four of them and is working on his fifth — a basswood black bear slated to be finished in the fall.
Borst’s carving ability is showcased aboard the Onrust, the replica of a Dutch sailing ship built by Schenectady County volunteers over a three-year period. He chiseled out the sign on the rear of the ship and most of its intricate carvings.
He prolifically carves figurines, many of them conjured from his own imagination. They crowd his living room hutch along with caricatures of people he carves — presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both have a perch.
“Everything I do is original,” he said.
Amazingly, Borst never received any training in woodcarving. He didn’t even start teaching himself until his 60s, when a chance meeting at a gun show turned him onto the skill.
A group of woodcarvers set up a table nearby where Borst had a gun display. After watching the carvers, he decided to pick it up as a hobby.
“I thought to myself, ‘I could do that,’ ” he recalled.
Borst purchased a sharp knife and began whittling. After that, he was hooked.
“In fact, it made me want to retire,” he said.
Soon Borst was amassing an impressive array of more than 200 chisels in a shop he set up in his backyard. He also became a regular contributor to Chip Chat, a magazine produced by the National Wood Carvers Association.
Borst did have something of an artistic background before he picked up carving. In grade school, he recalls being more interested in drawing than studying.
He became the go-to guy for a variety of different illustration jobs when he joined the Air Force during the Korean War.
Afterward, he took up a job painting signs and doing lettering for trucks.
Borst credits the precision of his carving to his practice carving faces. His first years in carving focused primarily on capturing the likeness of facial expressions in his work.
“The human head is pretty much the most difficult thing anyone has ever carved,” he said.
Once this is mastered, Borst said a carver can reproduce just about anything in wood. Today, he can look at a photo and duplicate its likeness in his carving almost to a T.
For instance, Borst is now working to reproduce Norman Rockwell’s “Game Called Because of Rain,” a painting that features three umpires staring up at a threatening sky. When he arranges the five figures he’s carved in the right order, the unfinished scene becomes easily identifiable.
“I can take something like that and duplicate it,” he said.