20100421-livingind-0101Written by Megan Wyatt
Photo by Robin May
Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stickman Joe turns hobby into profit.

Tucked inside a quiet Carencro neighborhood is a dynamic artist who not only creates awe-inspiring art, but who also breathes life into each of his artistic undertakings. Since the age of 6, Joe Gray has been called Stickman Joe, a name he has embraced and a name that has embraced him through the years. Joe, now 64, spends his retired days hard at work in his backyard where he carves and paints stories into walking sticks.

“I’m not your conventional artist,” he says. “I take a piece of wood and make it lively. If you don’t have no life in your art, people aren’t gonna like it.”

Although Joe has been whittling sticks since he received his first pocketknife as a boy, he didn’t carve his first walking stick until his return from Vietnam at age 25, using only a fence post, pocketknife and bowie knife.

Since then, Joe has carved hundreds of walking sticks, each one containing a distinctive breath of its own, whether it be a scaly dragon winding around a pole or a spirited Saints Super Bowl stick.

“I can look at a piece of wood and can basically tell you what it will be,” he says. “I don’t change the stick. I bring out its natural features.”

Joe rarely has to search for sticks to carve; he says that fallen limbs seem to call out to him from a thicket of woods or the side of the highway.

“I didn’t ask, but the good Lord gave it to me, so I deal with it,” Joe adds. “I can just work it out. I have a crazy imagination.”

As a child, Joe would look up from carving sticks in the park with his pocketknife to find a group of people surrounding him in awe.
Now, Stickman Joe peers into his front yard where the neighborhood children gravitate toward the intricately carved and painted tree branches to touch the textures of the tribal totem pole, LSU spirit stick and mystical wizard that sprout from an ordinary crape myrtle trunk.

After a lifetime of transforming abandoned branches into functional masterpieces, Joe’s wife convinced him to sell his walking sticks. His work currently sells at local flea markets for $80 to $400, and Joe is considering showing and selling his art at festivals.

“I always hope people like my art,” he says. “Even when they aren’t buying, it’s nice to see the look on a person’s face. The eyes don’t lie.”

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