The Whimsical Woodcarver of Wallowa County

lynn suckow, wallowa county, eastern oregon
photo by Lynn Suckow

written by Anna Bird | featured photo by Lynn Suckow

His home is quaint, no more than a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen and a dining room. The level of detail in the trim along the walls, the eccentric valances over the windows, and the weathered antique furniture together with an old Persian rug and stained glass windows create a sense of Victorian charm. All of the hand-carved fixtures and furniture are crafted in a similar, graceful style—some with exquisite floral details and others with simple curves.

Steve Arment’s woodcarving career started at age 17, when he carved a piggy bank to impress a girl. It didn’t work out with the girl, but woodcarving certainly did. Arment is now considered the community artist for Wallowa County.

About twenty-five years ago, Arment moved from Manitoba, Canada after visiting friends in Enterprise and falling in love with the valley. When he bought this house fourteen years ago, it had been condemned—no windows, no doors, no roof, no foundation. “There wasn’t enough left to restore,” Arment says, “So I just treated it like a treehouse.” He has re-shaped it inside and out with decorative arches along the front patio and a colorful hand-carved railing along the porch. He has since built many treehouses and gazebos.

steve arment, eastern oregon To survive his first winter in Wallowa County, he restored antique furniture. The dining room table in his kitchen, surrounded by matching, rustic wooden chairs are evidence of that winter. “A lot of antiques and a lot of classical forms are sort of timeless and will just go with anything,” Arment says. If he didn’t make the furniture around his home, there’s a good chance it’s from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. “Some of those forms have been working for a couple thousand years, so I’m not going to mess with it.”

Influenced by nature, Arment’s work is like a walk through a wooden zoo. A walrus head with giant tusks carved from pine is mounted above the entryway to his kitchen. His fascination with walruses began after carving one for a carousel in Alaska.

His work ranges from dining sets adorned with carrots, to custom signs and booths for local restaurants and shops, to one-of-a-kind screen doors now found on businesses and homes throughout the valley.

The first screen door Arment made was for Donna Butterfield who owned Art Angle, a framing and fine arts supply store in Joseph. Butterfield asked him to build a screen door for her and to make it fun. The finished door had a bright green tree over the top half, with a row of carrots underneath. Butterfield took the door with her when she closed up shop after twenty-two years in 2008. That screen door soon became Arment’s calling card. He now takes custom orders for screen doors that fetch $400 to $500, depending on the level of detail in each piece.

Despite the popularity of the screen doors, they serve only as an entryway to Arment’s talents. His true passion for woodworking lies in transforming rooms with elaborate fixtures and trim, imaginative valances and vaulted, painted ceilings.

His latest project is restoring a Victorian mansion outside of nearby Lostine. He plans to pull out all the stops for his new home—treating it like a much bigger treehouse. “If you don’t go over the top, why show up at all, really?” he says.

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