COVENTRY — During a holiday season unlike any other, Don Nester wanted to do something for his grown children that they would never forget.
“I’ve found the best Christmases are the ones when I actually made something,” the Coventry resident said Thursday, shortly before hitting the road to deliver the handmade gifts. “In these tough times, I think we need a little bit of good cheer.”
Nester, who’s 71, spent the last couple of months carving wooden bears, a Native American symbol of strength and healing, for each of his kids. He and his wife Debbie have six children, most of whom live with their own families between Coventry and West Warwick.
Nester began working on the carvings in October, working mostly with a chainsaw but using some other tools, like a chisel, as well.
“I’ve been carving up a storm,” he said.
The finished bears sit between three and four feet tall; five were carved from oak logs, and the sixth was cut from pine. The bears hold “welcome” signs, each with a sunflower wood burned onto it by Nester's wife.
“Now I’m back ordered — all the neighbors want one,” he said with a laugh. “I get new orders everyday.”
Art is a passion for Nester, who once studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and has focused largely on drawing and oil painting. A fan of sculpting, as well, Nester mostly taught himself to carve wood using a chainsaw.
In fact, Nester was featured in the Times during Christmastime more than three decades ago for an Indian head he’d carved for his mother.
“For years that sat on her porch,” said Nester, whose mother had been interested in Indian lore. “I haven’t really done anything big since then.”
Nester said he enjoys chainsaw carving as a fun way to pass the time.
“You just get lost out there,” he said.
With the help of a crew of neighbors and family members, Nester last week loaded a pickup truck with the carved wooden bears, each dressed in a Santa hat and scarf, to be dropped off at his children's homes on Christmas eve.
His hope, he said, was that when they received the custom-made gifts, his kids would understand just how much he cares.
“I hope they get the fact that I love them all very much,” Nester said. “It’s something from my heart.”