Friday, April 21, 2017

Meet Harvey Paris in Connecticut: Working with Wood to Carve Smiles Nationwide



Meet Harvey Paris in Connecticut: Working with Wood to Carve Smiles Nationwide


Harvey Paris, social worker, wood carver, mensch!

by Danny Bloom, internet reporter

BRIDGEPORT, CONNECTICUT -- Harvey Paris is a Jewish chip-carver who hjas carved out a place where he can put his hobby to good use.

It all started in 2006 when Paris decided to find a suitable hobby to keep him busy and quiet at home while his wife began studying for the rabbinate at Academy for Jewish Religion. The Brideport, Connecticut couple  

serve as president and vice president, respectively, of Jewish Family Service there.

“We realized that I’d have 20 hours of downtime a week while Barbara did her homework,” Paris recalls.  reporter. “But it had to be a quiet hobby.”

And quiet it was. And still is.

Meet the man who turns wood into a communication tool, using chip-carving because of its simplicity and beauty.

Chip-carving requires a hand-held knife, and you can do it while sitting on a chair in the bedroom, Paris told this reporter in a recent email interview across the seas, from my home office in Taiwan to his study in Connecticut.

A Tzedakah box, carved by Harvey Paris

''I am 65 years old and have spend my entire working career as a social worker and director of  Jewish Family Service agencies," Paris told me by email after I contacted him about doing a story on him. " I received an MSW from Temple University, originally planning on attending the Deconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, but ended up in Jewish Communal Services as a social worker instead. Prior to my MSW, I created my own BA in Judaic Studies from Harpur College, which later became SUNY Binghamton and is now called Binghamton University.''

Born in 1951, Paris (more on this very interesting surname later) grew up in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn.

When asked how he got into this hobby, Paris said he had I always attracted to wood and knives, but never did more than whittle a branch or two as a kid.

"To make a long story short, my artistic career as an adult began when my wife Barbara enrolled in Rabbinic School at the Academy of Jewish Religion some ten years ago or so," he said. "My wife and I worked together (at JFS) and  lived together and generally spent all of our time together. It soon became clear that she needed approximately 20 hours per week of quiet time to 'study Torah' and I needed a hobby that I could do in a spare bedroom(our adult son was already out of the house). I wanted to play the bongo drums, but she ruled out anything noisy."

A sample of his exquisite work -- a hobby and more than a hobby!

''My first thought was Murano glass, since we had recently traveled to Italy, but the thought of molten glass in our bedroom ultimately decided me against glass. I then started reading about wood and settled on chip carving since it only required one hand held knife. I found out about Wayne Barton, North America’s premier chip carver,  referenced in books I read and enrolled in a weekend class with him in 2006. At the conclusion of the class, he did something I never saw him do since, and I have studied with him for the last 11 years. He said something like “by the power vested in me, I now declare you an artist”. I embraced those words and have lived seeing life like an artist since then.''

Paris not only is a seasoned wood carver now, he also has a good sense of humor, noting: ''My wife sometimes half-jokingly says that maybe the only reason she became a rabbi was for me to become a carver. She was ordained in April 2017."

"I consider myself the world’s premier Jewish chip carver because I think I am the world’s only Jewish chip carver," he says, again with the humor. "Chip carving takes its name from  its process of removing chips of wood from the surface with a knife. I have applied the same technique to leather as well.'

''I decided to utilize my chip carving skills towards creating and beautifying Jewish ritual objects," Paris says.  "All of my designs are my own. My first creations were etrog boxes,  tzaddakah boxes  and mizrachs. I have since designed mezuzahs, challah boards and Seder plates. "
''At some point I realized that I could create works of art utilizing Jewish motifs and carved my  “Peace and Promise” series, in  where I carved Peace in 7 languages including Hebrew, Arabic and Yiddish, each with one of the Biblical seven species of vegetation as the background design. I then carved a Remembrance series involving 6 pieces reflecting on traditional Jewish values such as Torah and the 10 Commandments but also remembering  the Holocaust as well as family members. ''
''After I received my first commission to carve an aron and bimah for Wake Forrest University Hillel, I realized that even though I am only using 1 hand held knife, I could still carve big. During the last few years I have carved larger pieces (2’ x 2’) with subjects such as King Solomon, Revelation at Mount Sinai and my latest piece in 2017, I/aiah Had a Dream, a reference to the Prophet Isaiah and Martin Luther King, a piece concerned about race and religious relations in both Israel and America.''
''In 2015 I became interested in installation art and began searching for an appropriate medium that I could still utilize my carving skills on. I found wax tanned leather and have since created a 5’ X 7’ carved leather scroll highlighting the Moses at the Burning Bush Story. I have plans to double the size of the carved scroll to include Moses floating down the Nile and the Plagues.''
Customers? Does Harvey Paris have customers and is there a waiting list?

"To date, most of my customers are people who have wanted presents for special occasions -- either a customized wedding plate or a Jewish ritual object that could also be customized. I have also carved 3 arons for shuls and schools.   I am hoping that people will soon start viewing my carvings in both wood and leather as art as well as ritual or celebratory.''

Paris says that he has not attended trade shows, but to get the word out about his work, he does have a dedicated website and recently started tweeting.

His website( has links to a radio interview he did as well as to newspaper and magazine articles about his work.

When asked about his knowledge of the Hebrew characters he uses in his carvings, Paris had a ready answer at hand.

"I studied some Hebrew in college at Harpur, and also at Gratz College in Philadelphia as well as in Israel for a semester," he said. "I don’t speak it well or read it well, but can carve in it very nicely. Carving, like writing, is all about lines."  

Now about that family name: Paris?

"Paris is our real family name, but it was obviously changed when my grandparents came through the immigration desk at Ellis Island long ago," he said. "It might have been Poiris. No one is certain."
One thing is certain in 2017: Harver Paris carves wood with aplomb and pizzaz and his work is bringing smile to customers nationwide.

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