Two trash bags filled with clothes.
This, and the willingness to step out of his comfort zone and take a chance, was all Devonte Young had on his first day as a woodcarver.
Known throughout Dahlonega for his care-free attitude, big smile and hard-working demeanor, Young was still working in the same restaurant three years after his high school graduation. His future was an open book with no plans inside when he ran into an old friend, Michael Von Schroth, who was kind of a father-figure when Young was in middle school. The two were reunited over a game of Texas Hold ‘Em.
“We ran into each other and he asked what I was doing with my life and I told him I was doing absolutely nothing, really, just working and comfortable with life,” Young said. “He told me to pack my bags and I’m going to be going with him for the next three years, and he took me on as an apprentice for the next three years.”
A renowned chainsaw artist, Von Schroth had made a career of taking simple pieces of wood and turning them into beautiful works of art that the average person could never envision from looking at the original piece. After 32 years, he was ready to share those skills.
“When [Devonte] showed up, he had two trash bags full of clothes, throws them in my truck,” said Von Schroth. “We’re going to a 5-Star hotel and he’s got two trash bags. I had to get him some suitcases. “
Many would say Young was lucky just to survive at all. In December of 1994 when he was less than a year old, Young’s mother Barbara Ann Young was fatally shot by her ex-boyfriend, Scotty Morrow. Morrow was sentenced to the death penalty and died by lethal injection earlier this year. After the awful murder, Young and his four siblings were adopted by his grandparents who fought hard for custody of the kids. While this ensured the kids were brought up in a good home and safe community, times weren’t always easy.
“We didn’t always know when or where our next meal would come from,” Young said. “The community raised me, so that’s why I praise the community. It changed a whole person’s life.”
Although apprehensive, Young jumped at the opportunity to learn under Von Schroth.
“Whenever I first started, I was nervous, it was the first big step I’d ever taken in life,” Young said.
The idea of having a future in woodcarving was still unorthodox. Before he started, Young had never touched a chainsaw, and he wasn’t much of an artist either.
“I never thought this was going to happen to me in a million years,” he said. “I failed art class in middle school, so I never thought I’d be an artist.”
But having committed to the idea, Young became determined to learn the art of woodcarving, and Von Schroth was eager to teach. The two set out, traveling up and down the east coast from Florida to Maine.
“The thing is, if you really want this, you’re going to have to stay and you really have to push forward for it,” Von Schroth said. “It’s a sacrifice. He had to give up three years of his life.”
Young said it was a struggle. But he never gave up.
“There were some days I felt like I was going to quit but I prayed, kept my head up and always searched for the positive energy and vibes,” Young said. “It was really fun, but really tough on me, it definitely helped define me a little more in life.”
“We did everything from living in 5-star hotels eating 5-star meals to a campground, living in a tent,” Von Schroth said. “For six months we had to stay in a tent because we were up in New Jersey and there’s just no place to stay.”
Despite how tough the journey was, when it came down to it, Young knew he had found his calling.
“It just felt so natural whenever I had that chainsaw in my hand,” he said. “I could tell from there on out I was going to run away with this thing.”
According to Young, his first carving, a bear, took three whole days. Four years later, he has expanded to carving eagles and owls in addition to bears, and can do an entire carving in an hour or less.
His mentor also recognizes the major growth Young has accomplished as both a woodcarver and a man.
“He went from zero,” Von Schroth said. “…He went from two trash bags, now he’s got a truck, he’s got chainsaws, he’s got his wood, grinders, sanders, so that’s a big step.”
Now, Von Schroth looks at his former apprentice more from the perspective of proud father than mentor.
“Basically he’s a part of the family,” Von Schroth said. “He’s like my son.”
As for Young, he just feels blessed to be able to have a career and for the opportunity he was given.
“I’m happy, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said
You can usually find Young and his carvings on the weekends outside at Farmhouse Produce BBQ & Biscuits at the intersection of Long Branch Rd. and Hwy. 52, or you can contact him anytime on Facebook. Young is excited to see what the future holds for his craft and hopes to payback the community that helped him so much through the years.
“I’m just trying to keep working and see what the future brings to the table,” he said. “I want to show as much love to the community as they’ve showed to me.”
Two trash bags filled with clothes.