Every year Sue Raney looks forward to one small gift.
It’s not made in China, it doesn’t come from a store and it’s made just for her.
The gift is an ornament, carved by the hands of a friend.
“We’ve never gotten the same one,” said Raney, who lives in Seattle. “He’s amazing.”
That friend, Everett native Ed Morrow, has patiently, painstakingly carved hundreds of ornaments over the years for friends and family.
He gives out dozens every Christmas. His ornaments have become treasured mementos valued as much for their craftsmanship as for the memories.
Morrow, 73, isn’t a woodworker by profession. Most in the community know him better as a former city councilman and a retired educator who served as principal at six area schools. He and his wife, Betty, donated their historic home in north Everett, now known as the Van Valey House, to the city in 2002.
Morrow’s introduction to the craft started 40 years ago when he walked past a shop window in downtown Edmonds and saw a man carving. That someone was Duane Pasco, who was on the cusp of becoming an internationally recognized master carver.
Something ignited the imagination of Morrow, then a 33-year-old teacher, and he signed up for lessons.
“I was ready for it; I needed a creative outlet,” he said.
Soon, under Pasco’s tutelage, Morrow was carving redwood oars and totem figures.
Now, four decades later, much of his work evokes Christmas: snowmen, angels, nutcrackers and Santas of all stripes and sizes.
He has created pieces as large as the 4-foot snowman standing in his living room and as small as the 1-inch snowman his wife wears pinned to her Christmas sweater.
Armies of folk-art Santas march around their home. But his most prolific creations by far are ornaments. His hands have fashioned more than 500, he estimated.
Neighbors and family members look forward to their one-of-a-kind ornaments each year.
“It shows his gentleness, his care for detail, his joy in seeing some item emerge,” Betty Morrow said. “Everything he makes is happy.”
This year, his friend Sue Raney received a Santa who looks as if he’s zooming through space. Other years it has been carolers, snowmen with shovels or brooms, Santas with purple mittens, Santas with tiny lists.
Raney’s husband, Fred, and daughter, Susie, get their own ornaments — all tailored for them.
Morrow never considered quitting his day job to pursue carving. He’s a proficient woodworker, good enough to fashion a set of fine quilted-maple tables in his living room.
He took five years of lessons just to perfect his painting skills, to make the eyes on his Santas so real they give off a wink of life. But he doesn’t think of himself as an artist.
“I never have,” he said. “I’m someone who enjoys carving wood and giving it away, which is what we do at Christmas.”
Anyway, he said, it’s rare to make a living as a wood carver in this country — too time consuming. Mass produced goods are plentiful here and cheap.
Once, a shop owner inquired about selling his ornaments. She guessed customers would pay no more than $7.95. The memory brings a chuckle. “It takes five hours for me to do one,” he said.
His bigger pieces get their start outside with a chain saw. Next comes the adz, used to chip away flakes of wood. A chisel and a special knife help him etch the finer details. Then comes the paint, carefully applied.
Most of his pieces aren’t sanded. The divot-marked surface gives his pieces character and shows they were made with two hands — not by machine.
Over the years, he has collected a garage full of wood, some culled from beach shores, some dragged from the bottom of Everett gulches. Good wood is expensive, hard to come by and essential to success. Even the best carving and paint can’t hide imperfections.
His wood of choice is basswood, even grained, soft and creamy as a block of cheese. Basswood is virtually devoid of personality, he said, ready to be shaped by skilled hands and sharp tools. A nearly perfect medium.
Morrow caps off most days by settling into a den armchair to carve, the television tuned to golf. He derives inspiration from magazines and pictures, but the final product is his invention.
Often he’ll see an image locked into the fiber of the wood. Carving, he said, is the art of removing everything that doesn’t belong.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” he said. “I hope I never stop.”