Johnnie carves out an unique, generous niche

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My initial contact with Marvin Kaisersatt – “Marv” to his friends – was a phone call to thank him for his Fellows Society gift and longtime giving to Saint John’s University.

I was going to be in Faribault and offered to buy him lunch and introduce myself, but he said he was too busy and had several people from around the country coming in.

He was the instructor for a carving workshop.

Intrigued, I asked a few more questions and realized he has a unique talent.

Marv grew up in Montgomery, Minn., and heard about Saint John’s through an older boy in town who attended SJU. Marv was the typical multi-sport athlete and played baseball, basketball and football in high school. He got a degree in mathematics and played baseball at Saint John’s.

After graduating Saint John’s in 1962, he went into the military and was stationed in Germany. Through a Saint John’s connection, Marv then taught in Puerto Rico at a school run by Benedictines for two years.  After that he taught in Monticello for two years. He then settled in Faribault and taught math until he retired in 1995.

During a 1976 teachers strike, he went down to the local library and checked out books on wood carving. He taught himself the advanced skills and began carving caricatures. He specializes in carving multi-figure scenes from a single block of basswood. 

“Something good came out of the strike,” Marv said with a laugh. “I did jigsaw puzzles and read, but I needed something else to do. So, I went to the library and took out a book on whittling. I’ve been carving ever since.”

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For most projects, Marv makes an armature and clay model. Designing the piece to be carved from a single block requires some forethought. He needs to consider the tools he will use and how he will carve a specific section. At any time, he has several clay models set up in his apartment in different stages of completion.

“Planning is a very important step,” he said. “For me, it’s a lot of fun.”

At the International Woodcarvers Congress – considered by many as the premier general woodcarving competition – Marv has amassed a variety of awards and honors as a caricature carver.

They include Best in Show (2004), Best in Caricatures (11 times) and the Cecil Wakefield Award for Unusual Interpretation (two times). In 2006 he was honored by Woodcarving Illustrated as Woodcarver of the Year.

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Marv is a founding member of Caricature Carvers of America and has written a book, “Creating Caricature Heads in Wood and on Paper.”  It takes the carver through the approach for carving caricature heads, but more importantly it lays out a detailed procedure for designing them.

He doesn’t sell his work, but does annually donate a few pieces to be auctioned off for local charities. Google his name for more interesting information and accomplishments.

Marv has led a life as an accomplished teacher, carver and generous supporter of the community and Saint John’s. He has given gifts for nearly 30 years and has been a consistent member of the Fellows Society.

Marv is yet another example of a generous alum with a variety of talents and a commitment to the community.