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Carved Clothing Lands Artist Awards

Attaching a thought-invoking title to wood carvings is Sy Wengrovitz's way of inciting the imagination to tell the story of his art.

"I like to capture a moment in time," said Wengrovitz, a Springfield artist.

A carving of a pair of shorts, titled "Gone Swimming," won Wengrovitz a first-place award in the Fairfax Arts Council's Open Exhibition 2003.

"I want the piece to tell a story," without coming out and telling it, Wengrovitz said.

The story behind the shorts could be a quick change after mowing the yard, throwing on a pair of Speedos for a few laps before a big race, or something more risqué like discarding a suit altogether. Wengrovitz lets the observer fill in the blanks. The shorts are not the only clothes he does. A child's dress, hat and shoes discarded on a chair comprise one piece that he did, called "That Was a Swell Party, Mom," and he's working on a discarded men's tie called "TGIF," the working man's cry of "Thank God It's Friday."

Wengrovitz's Springfield house is decked out with wooden dresses, shoes, hats, vests and socks, all intending to provoke thought. One favorite of his is wooden underwear, hanging from a clothes line, called "His, Hers and Theirs."

Wengrovitz is a retired engineer, who started carving wood about 20 years ago. An inspirational trip to Tennessee was the hook that started his new career. In Tennessee, while his wife Judy was teaching a painting class, Wengrovitz was window shopping and walked past a woodcarving store.

"I was intrigued, so I went in. Eventually I got into clothing," he said.

The step into clothing was inspired by a similar window-shopping trip in the Soho section of New York City, where Wengrovitz spotted a safari outfit hanging in a Banana Republic store.

"There was a dress in the window, with a hat," which he carved, he said.

Now Wengrovitz's garage is an extensive wood shop. His walls are covered with things that he has carved. He has also carved most of the furniture in his house. In addition, his wife, Judy Wengrovitz, is a watercolorist, so their house is one big studio.

"We're running out of space," Judy Wengrovitz said.

In addition to the Fairfax Art Council, where Sy Wengrovitz won $1,000 for first place among 262 works of art representing 136 artists, he won $200 in a Vienna show and another award from The Art League this month.

"This past month has been very good," he said.

Some of Wengrovitz's carvings were displayed in the Franconia District Station, outside Supervisor Dana Kauffman's (D-Lee) office, and the Mason District Station, near Supervisor Penny Gross’ (D-Mason) office.

Planning a carving is an involved process for Wengrovitz. He looks for folds and shadows, glues together layers of wood and tries to anticipate how the cloth folds are situated. A single piece can take from 70 to 100 hours of work, without all the thought of how the gluing and layers will be situated.

"I don't want to go, have a major problem and have to throw the piece away," he said.

Aside from entering his work in shows and hanging it on his own walls, Wengrovitz has given pieces to all of his grandchildren. At age 6, they all got a carousel horse.

In January, Wengrovitz plans to display six pieces in a Lerner building in Tysons Corner.

"In his buildings, he has a continuous show," Wengrovitz said.

Wengrovitz has been a member of the Springfield Art Guild since it first started, and his wife was a founding member. Current president Marni Maree once had her backpack carved by Wengrovitz.

"It was amazing. He had my backpack back to me in about a week," Maree said. "I love his work."