Laupus Library’s exhibited woodcarvings showcase a lifetime of love

Laupus Library opened the art exhibit “Visions in Wood: Carved Creations,” during an Oct. 3 reception in the Evelyn Fike Laupus Gallery on the fourth floor of the library. On display through Dec. 9, the exhibit showcases a collection of relief carvings by Dr. Leonard “Leo” Trujillo, professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy in the College of Allied Health Sciences at East Carolina University.

The 2017 fall semester exhibit is part of the library’s ongoing “Art as Avocation” series that showcases and celebrates the artistic talents and self-expression of faculty, staff and students from the Division of Health Sciences.

“Our work as professionals in the health sciences is so demanding and often overwhelming in terms of meeting the demands and expectations for teaching, research and community,” said Trujillo. “But we do all this because we want to meet the needs of our students, almost to the point of not taking time to respect our own. Avocations like mine are truly healing and allows us to give another part of ourselves to others.”

“Laupus is really proud to champion cultural enrichment and the arts on our health sciences campus and so we’re delighted to host Leo’s newest works in our gallery space,” said Laupus Library director Beth Ketterman. “It is clear that between his work as a professor in occupational therapy and as a teacher of carving in his free time, Leo has a commitment to education and sharing his talents with others. We hope that all who come to view his pieces will be inspired by his work.”

Trujillo’s 57-piece exhibition reflects a lifetime of learning the art of carving and love for nature. Each piece represents a personal story of places he’s lived and seen.

Beginning with a solid plank of wood, Trujillo uses mallets and a multitude of gouges, chisels, riffles and sandpaper leaves to transform the wood into lifelike images of trees, old barns, nature scenes and people.

His desire to carve began at an early age. “My dad found this old keepsake oak box that was broken and tossed out,” he said. “On the outside was an applique of two scrolls, one of which had broken off. With a pocket knife I watched him recreate the broken scroll. My mom always talked about how special that box was because he had saved it. From then I felt I should learn how to do that.”

Years later while serving as second lieutenant in the United States Air Force, he continued carving and started to desire more carving tools, although he lacked the funds to pay for them. Old army boots and wooden pipe carvings were in demand among his fellow airmen so he sold them for about $25 each until he made enough money to buy his first set of chisels. Only then would he realize he had to buy something to help sharpen them.

Now he has all the tools he could ever need, including a dental tool with actual dental bits used for small detailed carving work. “I had a friend who was a dental hygienist, and they offered me some tools saying these might get into those hard to reach places,” he joked. “If it cuts, I have it or want it.”

When asked how long a piece takes him to carve, he answers with two words. A lifetime. “It takes me a lifetime to finish each one in the sense that every piece is carved with an accumulation of what I’ve learned throughout my life, and I apply all of that to each piece.”

Time is relative, he says, since he begins each morning with a familiar routine which includes almost an hour of carving time just before going to work. When he returns home at the end of the day, every spare moment is filled with more carving. “Carving time is just a part of my day,” he said. “If I ever felt like it was work I’d probably stop doing it.”

Trujillo’s plans for the future as an artist includes auctioning some of his work to raise money for ACES for Autism and developing a web page to share options for commissioned work that will surely broaden his list of admirers.

“This series means so much to me because it recognizes my carvings as “Works of Art” and me as an artisan, not a hobbyist,” he said. “I am honored beyond words.”

Laupus Library also wishes to thank the Friends of Laupus Library for their continued support of the Art as Avocation series and opening reception.

Laupus Library is currently seeking artists for both 2018 exhibitions. To learn more about the series or to showcase your work, visit or contact Kelly Rogers Dilda at or 252-744-2232.