BROOKINGS – Scott Siverhus of Las Vegas was trying to educate his students about creativity when he had an epiphany and began carving books.
His hobby helped him to deal with the aftermath of the shooting at the music festival near the Mandalay Bay hotel on Oct. 1, and he hopes to use it to raise money for victims’ families.
“We weren’t at the concert that night but had recently attended an outdoor event at that venue with our children,” he said.
His family did not hear about the shooting until the next morning.
“As it turned out, we had many friends/acquaintances whose young adult children were at the concert, and our reaction was heartsickness when we found that they had been wounded (thankfully, not fatally) and were in the hospital. People we know had rushed down into that chaos to find their friends and family that night. The feeling of imagining your loved ones down there was very hard to shake,” Siverhus said.
Siverhus, who grew up in Brookings and graduated from Brookings High in 1989, has been living in Las Vegas for about 20 years with his wife, Jennifer, and their two kids, Miya, 15; and Will, 11. Siverhus teaches sixth-grade English.
“We’ve very grateful for growing up in Brookings and having the teachers we did and the coaches we did,” he said.
His parents, Ron and Pam, still live here, and he and Jennifer bring their kids to visit as often as they can.
“We enjoy bringing them back and letting them see how a peaceful, quiet life can be,” he said.
Carving it up
He had no background in carving of any kind until about a year and a half ago.
“I was showing my students a TED Talk about creativity and seeing things from a different point of view,” Siverhus said.
The talk by Brian Dettmer was about how to carve books.
“I guess you could say it piqued my interest,” Siverhus said. “And I thought I’d give it a try.”
It doesn’t take much to get started: a book, of course, and a few small tools.
He’s choosey about his books.
“I like to think of a subject that sounds interesting to me. Or if I’m giving it as a gift, it’s usually pretty easy to think what the receiver might enjoy. The #VegasStrong book was pretty easy,” Siverhus said.
He picked “Vegas: Live and in Person” by Jefferson Graham, which is about the size of a high school yearbook and has a hard, red cover.
“Sometimes it’s hard to find a good thick book that will make a good piece. The best books are the older books that are printed … on an older type of paper. The newer things, the ones that are glossy, they can still turn out well, but the older books with the older paper work much better,” Siverhus said.
Once he picks his book, the carving starts with the precision of a surgeon.
“I have a half-dozen styles of X-Acto blades that I like, depending on what I’m trying to do,” he said. “That and a strong magnifying glass. And a tweezer can be very helpful.”
Once the tools are in place, the carving begins. The process is one page at a time.
“It’s very much like digging for hidden treasure, I guess,” Siverhus described the process. “It’s not pre-planned. I don’t go through the book ahead of time to try to think of what things will work out best,” Siverhus said.
After cutting the cover, “you can start excavating … a little bit at a time. And when you find something that you like, take a small paint brush with a little bit of varnish on it to help to stiffen it up. And then you work around it.
“It gets harder and harder the further you go through the book to have the pages come out cleanly,” Siverhus said. “If it works out right, you get … near the bottom of the inside of the book with enough information or illustrations to make it interesting.”
He also uses varnish on the edges of the page.
“The edges are varnished two or three times so that will seal the book, much like you might see in a model home where they have a library with all these books you can’t open,” he said.
There were certain things he wanted to highlight when he carved the #VegasStrong book.
“I think it must’ve been in the Table of Contents, when I saw the numbers ... I think I have a representation of the 58 people (who were killed). And that was maybe one of the top pages. I wanted to keep those numbers, so I glued them in place and kept working around them,” Siverhus said.
He wants his book to help out.
“This one-of-a-kind piece will be offered only for a $325 donation directly to the Law Enforcement Assistance Fund (LVPPA.com), which is a not-for-profit group that helps the surviving family members of Southern Nevada law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty,” Siverhus said.
If the book sells, great; but if not, he’ll keep it.
“It’s very important and meaningful to us. Sometimes you feel there’s nothing you can do to help in that situation, so whatever you can do, I think, helps,” Siverhus said.
The #VegasStrong book is the latest one he’s completed.
“The one I’m in the garage with now is the 20th book,” he said.
He can complete a book in a month or so, “depending on the size; generally, they all usually take about 30 hours, so about an hour a day,” Siverhus said.
He doesn’t mind if it takes longer.
“You get engrossed in it and I really honestly think I could sit there for a long time if I didn’t have other responsibilities,” Siverhus said.
“It’s my relaxation. The longer it takes the better it is for me,” he said, then added, jokingly, “I’m not sure my wife would agree. We have piles and piles of tiny little pieces of paper from the studio that find their way everywhere, like sand from the beach.”
Other than the pieces of paper, Jennifer doesn’t seem to mind.
“I think she likes the fact that I’ve found a hobby and other than the mess I make around the house, it’s been pretty good for both of us,” Siverhus said.
He plans to keep carving books indefinitely.
“The main one that we’re working on right now is going to be a series of old dictionaries. Each one’s carved a little bit differently,” Siverhus said.
Besides it being relaxing, he enjoys the feedback he gets when people see his works of art.
“It’s not something people get to see every day,” Siverhus said. “Definitely enjoy giving gifts to folks that I hope never get duplicated.”
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]