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Finding Minnesota: Greek Wood Carver

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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By Mike Binkley, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Machines, computers and robots are now doing work that human hands used to take care of.  In some ways, it has made the process more efficient and less expensive. But gone is a bit of the authenticity.

Tucked away, though, in a south Minneapolis backyard is a cramped little wood shop where a Greek immigrant is keeping the old-fashioned craftsmanship alive.

“To be a wood carver you have to love your work,” said Konstantinos Papadakis, emphatically.

He has been in Minnesota more than 40 years, honing the craft he learned as a child in his native Greece.

“I came to this country to carve and to teach wood carving,” he said.

You’ll find his carvings in several Twin Cities locations – including the state capitol.  Papadakis was commissioned to do works for the Senate, House and Supreme Court.

The Acropol Restaurant on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue features his replica of the Parthenon.

And his carvings are in churches across the United States and Canada, including St. George Greek Orthodox Church on Summit Avenue.  This past summer, a Greek Orthodox church in Charlotte, North Carolina consecrated a massive 43-foot iconostasis, which he created in his backyard shop.

“I’m happy to see my old carving — my old work,” he said, on a recent trip to the capitol.

Papadakis is now in his early 70s, aware that his work is a dying art.  But his hope for the future can be found in his apprentice, Paul Sirba, 23.

“You basically know each tool by the handle,” Sirba said, “and you know which tool to use for that specific cut.”

Sirba, the son of a Bloomington cabinet maker, has picked up on Papadakis’ passion, and hopes to make it his career.

“I hope so,” he said. “If God grants me a long life, hopefully I will continue it.”

Nothing would make Papadakis happier.

“And I hope and I believe he will continue,” said the master. “And if I go, I believe you will continue to see wood carvings the correct way in Minnesota.”

Both the master and his student can see the image in a block of wood before they make their first cut. Papadakis teaches wood carving, on Tuesday nights, in his south Minneapolis shop – and he has a waiting list to get in.

WCCO-TV’s Mike Binkley Reports

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