Prairie Woodcarvers of Alexandria hosts carving session with artist Marty Dolphens w/gallery

The Prairie Woodcarvers received a $2,000 grant from the Lake Region Art Council for rental costs of its carving facility.

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Marty Dolphens. center, instructs a class for the Prairie Woodcarvers at Ollie's Service Inc. on how to carve the bust of a cowboy.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

ALEXANDRIA — Woodcarvers gathered at Ollie's Service Inc. on Friday, April 1, to learn how to carve a cowboy bust from Nebraska native and woodcarving artist, Marty Dolphens.

The Prairie Woodcarvers hosted the event from its meeting space at 111 Donna Ave.

"I think we're one of the more unique clubs in the area. A lot of clubs just meet and carve on their own," said Sonya Anderson, activities director.

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Steve Boerboom, 73, of Alexandria concentrates on his carving during Marty Dolphens' carving class.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

"We try to bring an instructor in once a month. That's our goal and the thing that sets us above other clubs," added Roger Thalman, treasurer/secretary.

Marty Dolphens, 68, has been woodcarving ever since he saw a demonstration at the Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, 42 years ago. He's been carving ever since, which led him to win awards at competitions, be published in woodcarving magazines and commissioned for projects at various facilities.


Dolphens specializes in realistic human carvings. His inspiration comes from historical pictures, books of Native Americans, mountain men and the western genre.

"People and busts have always excited me. When I first started carving, I did a lot of cartoon characters," he said.

Dolphens' work has been showcased in galleries, but today he sells his work through his Etsy shop , WoodWorksbyMartyD. His work can also be viewed on his Instagram,

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Marty Dolphens shows his students the next steps in their rendition of the Cowboy bust.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

"It's just relaxing. My best line is I tell my wife, 'There are way worse addictions,'" said Dolphens. "I've been doing this so long. It's still surprising that I could take a piece of wood and make something out of it. It's gratifying, and teaching is too. I like to teach. It's giving back. A lot of people helped me when I started."

Today he travels across the Midwest, teaching classes on the art. He says he has made it to Alexandria to teach the Prairie Woodcarvers' classes about twice a year for the last 18 years.

On Friday, April 1, he began his three-day class on the bust of a cowboy, interacting with members of the Prairie Woodcarvers. Each day the class would chip away more and more to get the final result.

"It is a huge stress reliever," said Lee Ostendorf. A sentiment echoed by many in Dolphens' class. Ostendorf said he has been carving for 10 years after beginning with a piece of cottonwood bark with a utility knife.

Ostendorf said he has learned everything he knows from Dolphens and even accompanied him to Austria for a woodcarving school along with other members of the Prairie Woodcarvers.


Beth Aaberg, 52, from Starbuck says she enjoys taking Dolphen's classes because she enjoys the realistic style and each finished piece turns out wonderful.

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Beth Aaberg, 52, of Starbuck, whittles away at a chunk of Butternut wood to form the bust of a cowboy.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

The class costs $150, including the wood and use of tools. An extra $10 is added for non-members as a "use of facility" fee. The yearly membership fee is $30.

"It is so exciting to see them go away with their completed projects and how proud they were. It's fun to see," said Anderson. " I can remember feeling that same way when I first started."

Thalman says the club is hoping to attract new members by holding classes with instructors like Dolphens and community ed classes and demonstrations put on by Prairie Woodcarvers' members.

The organization has held demonstrations for the local Boy Scouts' chapter to get the younger generation involved, and will be hosting students from Kalon Prep Academy on April 29.

"Our mission statement is to expand the art of woodcarving to people of all ages," said Thalman.

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Sonya Anderson holds up the model the class is referencing.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

"The organization's great. It's nice we're starting to get young folks," said Jim Bridenstine, 77, of Osakis. "It's a lot of fun."

On Feb. 17, the organization received a $2,000 operational grant — $1,000 per year — from the Lake Region Arts Council.


This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through grants from the Lake Region Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage fund and in part through a Minnesota State Legislative general fun application.

Since this is an operational grant, all the money will be used to pay for the cost of the facility.

"Most people are using community centers, but that means you have to clean up when you leave. We clean up, but we can leave everything here," said Thalman.

Past grants have allowed them to pay for tools that can be used for members and non-members who want to attend a class.

Prairie Woodcarvers has been operating for the last 25 years and was originally named the Parkers Prairie Woodcarvers when they were headquartered in Parkers. Currently, there are about 25 to 30 members.

For more information on the Prairie Woodcarvers, go to the website at

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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