LIMESTONE, Maine — Like many eighth-graders at the Limestone Community School, Ellyzabeth Bencivenga has a full schedule — schoolwork, sports practices, music lessons, not to mention her duties as Junior Miss Limestone. But on any given Wednesday or Thursday night she seamlessly transitions from youngster to peer in a group of aspiring wood carvers — most at least triple her age — at The Artist’s Nook in Limestone.
An apprentice of master woodcarver Tom Cote, Bencivenga has been perfecting her skills for about two years. A sixth-generation carver, she has accumulated quite the collection of antique carving tools. Sliver by sliver, she uses each tool differently to hammer, scrape and gouge her way through a block of wood.
“It relieves a lot of stress,” the 13-year-old said. “You start really looking forward to the finished piece and you know you can’t stop until you have it done.”
Though she’s often eager to see her completed piece, Bencivenga “is learning patience and time management through her art,” Cote said. “She’s also learning a lot about constructive criticism.”
“She has a good eye,” he added. “She can look at a piece and see in a second what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Her artist’s eye and talent with tools have earned her four Best of Show ribbons, two Best of Category ribbons in competitions ranging from the Presque Isle fair to the Maine fair. She has also won back-to-back Downeast Wood Carving and Wildlife Art Show Best Youth Carving awards and has even been a featured apprentice during a music festival in Bangor.
One contest judge even took Cote aside during one competition and told him that the 13-year-old artist shouldn’t be competing in youth categories anymore and suggested she move up a category.
Being in the Gifted and Talented Program of RSU 39, Bencivenga is often allowed to work on her carving projects at school and has shown her artwork to many of her fellow students, including a polar bear puppet head she’d carved for a Destination Imagination skit two years ago.
She also learned how to let go of her work when she sold her first piece.
While showing her art downstate, a woman found Bencivenga’s carving of a fisherman on a buoy to be a must-have item.
“At first I didn’t want to let it go,” the youngster recalled. After a few words of supportive encouragement from Cote, she realized that she could always carve another one any time she wanted to.
Cote and Bencivenga are quite the master and apprentice duo; while Bencivenga has been seriously studying the craft for two years, Cote remembers the first time she first helped him with a carving — 11 years ago.
“She was 2, and she helped me apply the stain on a moose carving I’d done,” Cote recalled. Bencivenga is, after all, his granddaughter.
Whether her talent was formed through nature or nurture, the bottom line is that Bencivenga is uncommonly good at what she does.
“By the time she’s 27, she should be competing in the masters category during competitions,” Cote said.