Chainsaw artist's forte is fungi
- Article by: JANET ORTEGON
- Associated Press
- September 14, 2013 - 12:05 AM
SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Chris Graf has traded in his scalpel for a chainsaw.
Lucky for his former patients, the well-known retired urologist also traded in human subjects for wood.
Graf, 84, a longtime art lover and collector, has spent the last nine years turning stumps of wood into works of art — rough hewn mushrooms, to be exact — and donated them or given them away to friends and family.
His mushrooms now reside in 16 different states, they've been used in fundraisers for a variety of causes and he delights in the time he spends in his wooded retreat creating them, Sheboygan Press Media reported (http://shebpr.es/17PU4O8).
The odd part is how it all started — with a cancer diagnosis.
In 2004, Graf was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of the bone marrow. Even for a health care professional, it was a frightening time.
"I didn't know what to do," he said as he sat in his makeshift workshop amid chain saws and wood carvings. "There were four logs like this sitting out there and I said, 'I'm gonna make some mushrooms.' So I made four mushrooms. I gave them to my friends and they liked them, I guess they were just kind of being nice to me."
He made some more and gave those away too, including to a neighbor who had once given him puffball mushrooms out of her garden. They were a hit every single time.
Graf, who took classes in mushroom identification with his late wife, Janet, and has always loved the edible fungi, kept carving mushrooms right through his stem cell transplant, a heart attack in 2006 and the chemotherapy that continues today.
"If you take a log and make a mushroom, you've created something," he said. "That's satisfying."
Since 2004, Graf has carved about 200 mushrooms out of a variety of woods, including birch, pine, walnut and even a log that washed up on the beach.
"I give them all away but I take no compensation," he said. "If people want to do that, I have them make a contribution to the (Sharon S.) Richardson (Community) Hospice, (John Michael Kohler) Arts Center, their church or some benevolent organization."
The Black River Advancement Association in the Town of Wilson has been the recipient of Graf's mushrooms in the past and has added them to its annual silent auction fundraiser, said President Scott Schreiber.
"They're very popular," Schreiber said. "Chris is well known in the community. It's a good addition to our silent auction. People enjoy them. My mom has one."
Graf is considering gifting his 202nd mushroom, by far the biggest he's attempted, to the association when he finishes it this fall. The donation would be in memory of two old friends from the Black River neighborhood — the late Fred Hainer, who taught mushroom identification, and the late John Kohl.
Graf hasn't made any overtures to the association about it yet, but Schreiber said his gifts have always been welcome.
"Let's put it this way: Would we be able to find a space for one of his mushrooms?" Schreiber said. "Much like the elusive morel mushroom, they pop up, they like to be off by themselves. He's always been a great neighbor, a great guy. If he wants to donate a mushroom, we'll definitely accept it."
Graf, whose medical career included thousands of vasectomies in addition to countless other procedures, said there's no contest between using his scalpel and wielding the chain saw.
"Well, I'm helping more people with a scalpel," he said. "The way I help them is better. But I give away mushrooms and (people) love them. As I think about my life, I gained happiness and fulfillment by helping others. The higher you can climb the ladder of help, the better off you are."
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Sheboygan Press
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