NEW KNOXVILLE — At the front of the sanctuary in First Church in New Knoxville stands a massive, glittering Christmas tree, bedecked with yellow lights and dozens of intricately carved wooden ornaments hanging from red strings. Each of these ornaments — among them a turtle dove carrying an olive branch, a Christmas tree, a candle and bells tied together with a ribbon — was handcrafted by 16-year-old Weston Hirschfeld.
“We always did a giving tree here in the past, where people would hang pieces of paper (on the tree) and it had different things people could donate (to the church),” Hirschfeld said. “This year, my parents were the head of the decorating committee here at the church ... and we ... had the idea that we could give all the ornaments to the church and then they could sell them, and the money would go to the giving tree. So that’s kind of where (the idea) came from.”
From start to finish, the project was all Hirschfeld.
“I actually harvest most of my own wood,” he said. “My grandpa has a wood-mizer saw so we can cut our own logs, and cut boards from those.”
The total project time, from getting all 20 patterns ready, to completing each ornament, took approximately 35 hours.
“I’m pretty fast at it,” he said. “I can do about three of them in 20 minutes.”
Although Hirschfeld is starting to sell some of his work, the money he makes is not his main goal or impetus.
“I always tell (people) the first reason I do (woodwork) is because I love it,” he said. “I like going out in the shop and working with the wood ... and this is a way I can share it ... and I can show people what I can do. So that’s always fun.”
Hirschfeld is in his fourth year of doing woodcarving projects for the church, and he is pleased with this project’s turnout.
“I like those ornaments — they’re pretty nice,” he said. “A lot of people tell me they like my work or that the ornaments look nice, and that’s always nice (to hear).”
The ornaments are not the first or the largest project Hirschfeld has completed for his church. Last October, he donated a 4-by-6 intarsia — a type of wood inlaying — of DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” to the church. The artwork is on display on the wall of a smaller building next to the main church. The 15 different types of wood he used — some exotic, some “domestics,” as he calls them — work to make a unique multi-colored version of the painting. The woods range from an almost white to yellow to reddish-brown to black.
Hirschfeld avidly explained these types of woods.
The one used in the darker parts of the tablecloth and in parts of the disciples’ robes has a unique nickname.
“It’s nicknamed the blue pine; which comes from a pine tree that was killed from a worm, and the worm brought mold spores into the tree,” he said. “That’s what gives it that grey color, which is nice for this line of work.”
The darker wood used for the beams and molding in the room’s ceiling is wenge, he explained, an exotic wood.
“Ebony is the eyes and the mouths,” Hirschfeld said.
This project, which was comprised of more than 800 pieces, took Hirschfeld six weeks to complete.
“They were dedicating this new building and I wanted to have it for the dedication,” he said. “It’s something I’d wanted to do — a pretty big project I wanted to undertake. And my family helped me with some of the sanding and shading, and this was a way we could do something special for the new church building.”