Holiday gift idea at MSV: Unique wood carvings of Santa

This is a hand-carved wooden Santa created by local artisan Ed Bender. His Santas are being sold at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley gift shop. Ashley Miller/Daily

The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley has a wide selection of wooden Santas hand-carved by local craftsman Ed Bender.

Museum gift shop manager Bonnie Barr said Bender, of Frederick County, is a unique, one-of-a kind artist.

“He’s incredibly humble about his talent,” Barr said. “He almost doesn’t feel as though the title artist lives up to his abilities.”

But, according to Barr and Bender’s fan base, his wood carvings are “just that good.”

Bender has carved several hundred Santas over a 20-year span. His  passion for wood carving started as a young man in the Boy Scouts. Upon retirement in 1988 from the CIA, Bender said he needed a hobby, and he remembered how much he enjoyed carving.

“I started with little carvings,” Bender said. “Dogs. Birds. And then moved into larger items like Civil War figurines and animals.” Each project becomes more difficult as they get bigger Bender explained. The smallest wood carving may only take a few hours, while a larger piece may take up to 50 hours to complete. Additional time is put aside for painting.

In 2012, Bender approached Barr and asked if she would consider selling his Santas in the museum gift shop.

“I looked in the box and realized I had hit the mother load of talent,” Barr said.

Not only was Barr excited over Bender’s skills, but also because he’s a local artist. Barr and museum staff pride themselves on their variety of locally made and sourced gift items available for sale in the gift shop. “We want to support the community,” Barr added.

Bender admits he can’t draw. Instead he uses patterns as his guidelines. He then carves the Santas out of basswood and paints them, typically in a traditional Christmas red with blue eyes. His carvings range in size, style and price. For Bender, traditional Saint Nicholas mostly influences his style, while other Santa carvings feature elements associated with a more modern Santa Claus, such as presents, Christmas trees and candy. The Santa carvings range in size from 6 to 12 inches.

“People aren’t aware of how much time is put into each Santa,” Barr said. Each Santa is signed and dated. Bender’s fingerprints can even be detected in the paint. It’s those touches, Barr said, that make each Santa unique in its own. “No Santa is alike,” Bender added.

Barr said the most rewarding aspect of the Santa carving project is where the proceeds go. “Ed doesn’t keep any of the proceeds for himself,” Barr said. The proceeds from each sale are directed toward an education fund for his grandson to go to college.

“It’s a way I could give back to him,” Bender said.

The Museum of the Shenandoah has a wide selection of Bender’s Santas. Prices range from $59 to $270. Barr encourages anyone interested in purchasing a Santa to shop early as she expects to sell out.

For more information, contact Barr at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley Gift Shop, 901 Amherst St., Winchester. Phone: 540-622-1473, ext. 244