As a former teacher and basketball coach, Prescott, Kan., resident Tony Fornelli knows you don’t just pick up a new skill overnight, and you often have to rely on help from others — unless you’re talking about his ability to carve wonderful creations out of wood.
“I picked it up fairly quickly,” Fornelli said. “I never had anyone show me anything. I was at an arts and crafts show in Mound City 25 years or so ago and saw a booth with wood carvings. I was a fisherman, so I told my wife, ‘I’m going to carve a fish.’ She bought me the tools, and so I did.”
Fornelli’s talents don’t end at carving fish, though. He’s made ducks, birds and knives out of deer antler and steel. He works mostly with basswood (linden wood).
“It’s a personal joy to me,” he said. “When I started out, it was a challenge more than anything. I love challenges. It helped relieve the tensions of stress and coaching.”
Fornelli and his wife, Mary Beth, have five children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. While none of them have shown an interest in learning the craft, they have shown an interest in fishing. Fornelli doesn’t mind, as he has enjoyed meeting others in the art world who share his interests. After seeing a flyer for the Art is Ageless® competition at Fort Scott Presbyterian Village, he decided to participate. He’s won many awards, including Best of Show at the most recent event for his piece, “Predator and Prey.”
Fornelli has donated pieces to the Presbyterian Village’s Good Samaritan fundraising event, and has encouraged other artists and friends to enter Art is Ageless.
“My advice to new artists is, go for it,” Fornelli said. “Try it. It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make. And find a class if you want to. For carving specifically, there are some great artisans and classes in Branson.”
Fornelli has shown others the tricks of the trade, proving that once you’re a teacher and coach, you’re always a teacher and coach.