Retired carpenter carved religious figures and scenes
By Daniel Charland
CHARLES CITY — The Archdiocese of Dubuque has recently been graced with the donation of several high-quality religious wood carvings from two sisters, Malinda Jones Welton and Tara Lane. These carvings were among many that they inherited from their late father, Martin Jones. According to Malinda, her father had an affinity and love for wood for as long as she can remember.
“I think he just liked making things,” she recalled. “I remember when I was a real little kid, he had this train table and he had built the little buildings with all these minute details on them out of wood. He worked with his dad and an uncle when he was first out of high school doing construction work building barns. He worked as a manager at a lumber yard when I was small. My mom told him, ‘You like the wood too much, because you take a piece and rub the wood.’ I think that kind of describes it pretty well.”
Hailing from Charles City, Martin Jones did indeed have working with wood as a major part of his life. As a carpenter, he had worked on projects as high-end as rebuilding a bank that had been hit by a tornado. He retired after being laid off from a lumber yard during hard economic times, but that was only the start of his vocation for working with wood. Jones first became interested in wood carving when he saw some wood carvings in a store in Lansing, where the family would go ice fishing. The carvings were too expensive for him to buy, so he simply decided that he’d make them himself.
According to Malinda, her father started carving in the early 1980s, after she and her sister had grown up.
“Mom gave him a set of carving tools for Christmas,” said the carpenter’s daughter. “My sister says it was a joke, but I’m not so sure.”
Beginning with carvings of flying ducks, Martin soon branched out into a wide variety of subjects for his art. These included buffalo, bulldozers, plates, birds, stars, clocks, and many other subjects and designs. Every single project was unique, since Martin didn’t like to repeat the same carving twice, believing it wasn’t as fun repeating something the second time around. In spite of the quality craftsmanship of his works, he hardly ever sold them, preferring instead to enjoy them as decorations around the house or give them as gifts to friends and relatives.
Regarding his religious carvings, Malinda expressed surprise that he had carved them at all. When asked what Martin’s motivation was for carving Catholic images and figures among his many other subjects, she said, “That is a question that we have asked ourselves, because Dad didn’t really go to church. He went when my sister and I made our first Communion, confirmation and our weddings, but otherwise Dad just didn’t go to church.”
In Malinda’s view, her mom is the one who most likely deserves credit for inspiring the religious images in the first place.
“My mom was a cradle Catholic, and she was an only child, and, my gosh, her kids were going to grow up that way,” said Malinda, whose family home is in the area served by Immaculate Conception Parish in Charles City.
“We went to church ‘religiously’ and never missed,” said Malinda. “Sometimes I wonder if she was the role model in some regards for (my father’s connection to faith).”
Martin Jones’ relationship with both wood and with his wife merged in other ways as well, as their shared artistic passions melded well together. “My sister and I were both grown and had four children a piece by then,” said Malinda, “so it didn’t impact us much except when we would visit and see what Dad was working on now. It probably impacted my mom the most, because he would spend so many hours in his shop, and she liked to sew and paint little figurines, so they both did their own little artsy things under the same roof.”
With both children grown, this also meant that carving clubs, such as one the couple regularly attended in Rochester, became their main social group.
After Jones’ passing, his children inherited the vast collection of wood carvings and had to decide what to do with all the items.
Malinda took point on the decision-making, with Tara trusting her sister’s feelings and going along with the plan to donate the religious wood carvings to the Archdiocese of Dubuque.
“I felt that it needed to be a place where people could appreciate the collection, said Malinda. “It just didn’t belong in our home like it had been in Mom and Dad’s house. It needed to be shared.”
For the remaining nonreligious pieces, the two sisters still had some work cut out for them.
“Many were dispersed within the family,” explained Malinda. “We called his two nieces, and they were just delighted to come and pick from his collection.”
A couple pieces were given to family friends and old coworkers of Martin. Currently, several pieces are on display in locations like New Hampton in the Carnegie Cultural Center and Floyd County museum in Charles City.
Retired carpenter Martin Jones, now deceased, works in his woodshop. (Contributed photo)