For Clem Marsili, 81, of Brilliant, whittling started out as a way to pass the time, but before long, this pastime turned into a creative hobby for the talented carver.
Wood serves as Marsili’s artistic medium, and he has made a wide variety of items — practical, decorative and even whimsical — in four decades. Not one to boast, he describes his craft in a matter-of-fact way. It might take a few days, a week or a couple of months to finish a project, but the length of time doesn’t seem to faze him.
Marsili, who is a retired railroad worker, said his carving hobby evolved over the past 40 years. “I used to just whittle, nothing in particular,” he recalled. “Then I started into the ducks and little toy cars.”
Not surprising, one of the former railroader’s most intricate works is a train engine, complete with wheels and authentic details. In addition to toy cars, he has carved toy pickup trucks and camper trucks. He also has carved wooden pumpkins, gourds and toy guns.
He also has made many pairs of tiny shoes out of wood. “Most of those shoes were done in the last five or 10 years,” he said.
Marsili explained that he began carving shoes after seeing a pair of old-fashioned, high-buttoned shoes owned by his sister-in-law. “I started showing them around, and somebody else wanted a pair. It was kind of like people around me kept inducing me to do it,” he said.
“It was a pastime. When I think about how many hours I wasted doing it ...,” Marsili mused, his voice trailing off in laughter.
In addition, Marsili said, “I’ve made some furniture over the years. I made a sewing machine cabinet with drawers on both sides. My wife was doing a quilt, and an ordinary sewing machine surface wasn’t large enough. I took an 8-foot sheet of plywood and made a surface 8 feet long. It made it easier for her to do her quilt.”
He added, “I made several end tables with cabriole legs. I did a lot of toy boxes and shelving.”
He also has made toy boxes, cutting boards and display cases for collectibles.
“The kids in the family wanted something that is only for them. So I made toy boxes for their trinkets, with combination locks. I made them for half a dozen people,” he recalled.
Marsili has never sold any of his beautiful carved objects, preferring to give them away. “When somebody expressed an interest, I just gave it to them,” he explained.
“I could make a lot of things, but I couldn’t make money,” Marsili quipped. “I never learned to do that.”
The self-taught carver offers a simple explanation for his carving style. “A lot of my friends ask how I do that. It all depends on what I’m working on. If I’m working on a shoe, I cut off everything that doesn’t look like a shoe,” he said.
In his railroading career, Marsili worked initially for the Wheeling-Lake Erie Railroad; then, as rail lines merged and changed, he worked for the Norfolk and Western line and later for the Norfolk and Southern line, from which he retired in 1986.
A Pennsylvania native, Marsili said he spent half of his life in Dillonvale, and the other part in Dover. He and his wife, Bette, moved to Brilliant, which is her hometown, three years ago.
“We came back here to look in on the old people,” he remarked.
“Believe it or not, there are people older than me here.”
They have five children, one of whom is deceased. Rounding out the family are 12 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
CLEM?MARSILI?demonstrates his woodcarving technique at his home in Brilliant.