Mt. Laurel man demonstrates patriotism through art

Chenier crafts special mementos for Cinnaminson police and others in region.

A wood carving fashioned by Mt. Laurel resident and former law-enforcement officer Paul Chenier, celebrating Bill Gershen, who served in the Army in Germany during the Cold War. Gershen, who’s birthday is on the Fourth of July, is part of a group which handles the unclaimed ashes of U.S. military veterans. Chenier has also carved flags and other mementos for Cinnaminson Police and other departments across the region. (Photo credit: Paul Chenier/Special to the Sun)

Though born and raised in New England, Paul Chenier has set down firm roots in South Jersey.

A former law-enforcement professional, Chenier has crafted several pieces of patriotic memorabilia for the Cinnaminson Township Police Department and others across the region. 

Chenier and his wife have lived in various Burlington County municipalities  for decades. Based in Mt. Laurel for the last 14 years, the pair also resided in Medford and other places in Evesham Township. 

In late April, Chenier’s work — a challenge coin holder, plaque for Police Chief Richard Calabrese and a Marine Corps plaque with a carved flag — was featured on the township police department’s Facebook page. 

“I’ve made flags previously for police departments in Medford, Marlton and Voorhees,” Chenier explained in a conversation with the Sun. “I wanted to do something to keep me busy after I had surgery last year, so I started making these flags. I watched YouTube, tutorial videos and went to work, but it was a very tedious process.

“Being a former police officer myself, I’m a little biased,” the artist added, “and I’ve enjoyed making a lot of flags for my brothers and sisters in the force.”

While a noble pursuit, the process of crafting the wood-based artifacts was initially labor intensive. 

“At first, I’d have to go out and either cut or rip down individual pieces of wood. And that was a real pain in the butt to have to do,” Chenier admitted. “Back in March, I invested in a carving machine, which has made life so much easier. Now I tell the machine what I want it to do, and bang, it just goes to town.” 

As with all technology, Chenier said, programming the machine takes up the time searching for the wood used to. 

“While the machine is good, even when you spend time with it, it only knows what you tell it to do. But I’ll sit there and just watch it. I’m fascinated by the machinery,” he added.

Depending on how large and intricate the project is, Chenier said completion of a flag-type creation typically takes up one quarter of a day.

“The police flags with badges probably take 4.5 hours, counting programming and the actual carving,” he revealed. “Once the carving is done, I put four to five coats of polyurethane in between the layers, then you have to sand it and wait, and it adds to the total time.

“The whole process takes about six hours total.”

All the work has been worth it, however, with deserved praise for Chenier from the top cop in Cinnaminson. 

“Paul is a true American patriot and huge supporter of all first responders,” said Chief Calabrese. 

“He has dedicated his free time to bringing American pride and integrity to all people he comes into contact with, by making these handmade American flags and plaques that are uniquely special to every person he awards one to.”

With the popularity of his work rising, the requests never stop. Chenier, who was taking some time off the afternoon of the Sun interview to attend his son’s retirement from the Medford Township Police Department, will have to get back to the grind soon enough. 

“I’m working on a couple pieces for some friends of mine,” he stated. “I just made a nice one: It’s 16 inches high by about 33 inches wide, and it’s a flag for a veteran who served in Germany from 1960 to ‘66,” he stated. 

“It’s his birthday on the Fourth of July. He’s part of the group that takes care of unclaimed veterans’ ashes.”