It’s not every day you come across a 7-foot pencil. A West Hartford woodcarver, with the help of his two young daughters, has just crafted one, and, for now, has it on display in his yard.
When Eilon Caspi got a call from friends who were clearing trees on their property, Caspi drove over, squeezed a 10-foot cedar into his Subaru Forester and took it to the family workshop.
In the studio, Caspi got creative, carving the giant pencil almost entirely out of hand tools — Caspi only used a power tool once to drill in the dowel for the pencil’s tip. He used Home Depot’s paint scanner on a regular pencil to find a perfect match for the classic yellow body and pink eraser. Caspi also fitted two tomato cans to the wood for the pencil’s ferrule — who knew that’s the name for the metal band — and colored in the sharpened tip with pencil graphite.
Caspi’s giant pencil will sit on display outside his West Hartford home for the rest of the summer, but Caspi plans to offer the carving to Morley Elementary School, where his daughter goes to school.
“Teachers, as everybody knows, went through very, very difficult times during the pandemic. It’s always a tough job and not always appreciated or supported. So it’s my way of saying thank you,” Caspi said. “The world of wood is way beyond the wood itself…it opens up spaces for connecting with people in the community.”
For Caspi, carving is more than a hobby — it’s a passion that he shares with his daughters, 7-year-old Natalie and 3-year-old Eleanor.
Natalie and Eleanor worked together with their father to paint and carve the pencil. Caspi said that through each project, they learn about tackling challenges, finding solutions and giving back to their community.
“When we’re in the shop, every moment there, I know that we’re creating memories that they will cherish forever,” Caspi said. “To have them a part of the process is always wonderful.”
Caspi said that the family workshop, which they call the “World of Wood” or WOW for short, was pivotal in shaping the family’s pandemic experience.
“All you need to do is open the side door of the kitchen and walk a few steps down, and we’re in this different world,” Caspi said. “It’s another space where we kind of can forget ourselves and not worry about the virus and just do our thing. It’s very healing.”
Caspi, a gerontologist and an assistant research professor at the University of Connecticut, first started wood carving in an elementary school class in Israel where he grew up. “I remember the smell of the wood,” he said.
While Caspi always thought fondly of those first few years of carving as a young boy, he stepped away from the hobby. Caspi told himself that if he was lucky enough, when he was 80 he would carve again.
At the urging of his wife, Caspi jump started that dream just before turning 40. While the couple was living in Minneapolis, she signed him up for classes with Konstantinos Papadakis, an old-world, wood-carving master from the Greek island of Crete. For the next six and a half years, Papadakis taught Caspi the craft.
“He would say, don’t try to make it perfect,” Caspi said.
Over the last 10 years, Caspi has carved sculptures that include signs of gratitude for his daughters’ schools, an outdoor library, a sunflower for Ukraine and even a brain for the Cushing Center at Yale University.
With every piece he learns something new.
“It’s being in the present, it’s connecting with the wood, it’s learning from the wood, it’s learning patience with the wood,” Caspi said. “It’s very meditative.”
Alison Cross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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