Smith enjoys sharing wood carving talents

Published 11:32 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2009

NATCHEZ — Roy Smith doesn’t need to give gift receipts with most of his Christmas and birthday gifts.

He doesn’t even have to fight the crowded stores. Rather than spend hours combing racks and shelves for the perfect gift, Smith just makes it — with wood and a knife.

Smith, who has been carving wood since he was 11, said while he enjoys the craft, his biggest thrill is giving away the finished products.

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“People will see some of my stuff and say ‘How much do you want for that,’” Smith said. “And I’ll just say ‘You like it? Here take it.’”

Smith said his family and friends have always liked his carvings, but just recently he saw just how well his art form stacked up against other carvers.

Smith entered his first woodcarving contest, Mississippi Pearl River Woodcarvers show in Jackson, where he showcased his work alongside professional and amateur woodcarvers from across the Southeast.

“I just wanted to see what some professionals would say about my work,” Smith said. “I had never had it judged before.”

When the judging was complete, Smith said he was blown away by the results. He entered carvings in four categories and placed in all of them. He took home a total of six ribbons — one third place, one second place, two first places and two “Best of Class” ribbons.

“When my wife and I came back from lunch, I looked at my table and thought, ‘Those are for me. There must have been a mistake.’”

For Smith, one of the biggest compliments came from a professional woodcarver, who asked where he got his pattern for a 3-inch tall carving of an Arab man.

“Up here,” Smith said pointing at his head. “God has given me the ability to just look at something and see the pattern in it. I can look at floor tiles and see a picture in them.”

Smith said the tiny caricature won him much praise from his peers because of its detail. Smith said he was able to create such a realistic figure because he was immersed in the culture during his two tours of military duty in the Gulf War.

“I lived with these people. I knew what they looked like,” he said. “Working all night with the men, you get to know them.”

But the tiny details weren’t the only thing that set the figurine apart. Smith said the type of wood used in the figure also made it unique.

“I had a knife, but no wood,” Smith said. “So I grabbed a 2-by-4 piece of pine off the bottom of a pallet on an air strip and carved him.”

When he has his choice of wood, Smith likes to use Catalpa wood or cedar. But no matter the type of wood, Smith said the piece always dictates what the final product will be.

“I look at a piece of wood and look at the grain and knots and decided then what I’m going to carve,” Smith said.

And once the picture is clear in his mind, Smith pulls out his tools — almost three toolboxes full of them — and gets to work.

The end result can be anything from an Indian to a Santa Claus or maybe even a letter opener. Smith said he considers the recipient of the carving as much as he does the piece of wood he’s using.

“If there is something I know you will like, I will make it for you,” he said.

And despite his recent success at the regional competition, he said, he still won’t put a price tag on his work.

“That’s where the joy comes from for me,” Smith said. “If I give you something, and I know you will be happy looking at it, that makes me happy.”