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Article about Art in Portland Oregonian August 12, 2007
|EX-COP WHITTLED TROUBLES DOWN TO SIZE |
Sidelined By Injury, He Turned His Love Of Woodcarving Into A Career
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Amy Martinez Starke The Oregonian Staff
When a disabling injury ended Art McKellips' career as a Washington state trooper, the longtime whittler turned in his badge for carving tools.
And every tool was razor sharp. Shedding blood on each carving went with the job. He was missing parts of three fingers, and the rest were worn and callused. "The first thing you do," he told his students, "is buy stock in Band-Aids."
Usually working in basswood out of his Hillsboro home for the past 30 years (and Tacoma for 20 years before that), he did commissions big and small, and eventually created a name for himself nationwide.
"If I can see it, and I can draw it, I can carve it," he said.
In the 1960s, he got a $25,000 commission for a mural sculpture on the history of money and barter. He carved crests of arms, tiki masks and Elmer's Restaurant signs. He carved the entire bar for a Bavarian restaurant in Tacoma and three totem poles for the New York World's Fair. He did caricatures of each member of the Giants baseball team. He did life-size statues of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the risen Christ at St. Jude Church in Eugene. He did many of the exterior statues for the town of Leavenworth, Wash.
Most famous was a large wooden sculpture depicting Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.
Had Art been savvier, he would have charged a lot more. But he wasn't much for tooting his own horn, and he couldn't put a price on his work. So though he made a living doing what he loved, he never made a pile of money.
Art had the build of a prizefighter and a bullheaded personality that could charitably he called temperamental. The ex-cop and Marine had ancestry combining Scottish and Osage Indian. His spiritual beliefs were a mixture too. A onetime Christian deacon, he also believed he had lived several lives and had prophetic visions and dreams. And he was a big fan of St. Jude, whom he believed saved his grandson's life. He often felt he was born in the wrong time.
He worked from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in his Hillsboro garage, and fast, because he wanted to see the end result. Until poor health slowed him down, he was the fastest carver he knew -- something he learned from doing courtroom drawings years earlier.
"I don't boast much, but I will boast on that," he said. "I think I hold the world record on time."
Art had no formal art training. His step-grandfather got him whittling as a little boy: flint pistols, rifles, hatchets. His father was a millworker in Everett, Wash., and Art had a rough-and-tumble upbringing.
After graduating from Everett High School, he entered the Marine Corps, which made him a barber. At 19, he married Joyce Lattin, who was in beauty school, and they eventually had four sons.
By the time he was 21, he was a Washington state trooper. He whittled as pressure relief from his job, and after 10 years on patrol, he was injured in 1961 ("I was rammed by drunks three times").
After his injury, Art resigned, and his wife operated a beauty salon out of their home.
He did freelance courtroom trial drawings for Seattle TV stations and composite drawings for police agencies.
After two years in Eugene, the family moved to Hillsboro in 1975 so his wife could take a job managing the JC Penney beauty salon in Washington Square.
At the peak of his working life, Art sent carvings to the king of Norway, Neil Armstrong and Jackie Kennedy. He often met celebrities for whom he had done carvings: Johnny Cash, Rosey Grier, Red Skelton, Pat Boone, Loretta Lynn, Frank Leahy, Carol Burnett, Ed Asner.
It was important to pass on his knowledge. He taught and wrote a book on woodcarving for beginners. He particularly enjoyed teaching the young people of the Confederated Tribes in Colville, Wash.
He always had time to let people see his "museum" and showed off a thick wallet of photographs of his carvings.
Two weeks before his death from cancer July 26, 2007, at 76, he was carving an organ grinder with accordion and monkey. It is half done.
"Nothing that I have done is finished to the 10th degree," he once said.
Art never got to go to Scotland, but some of his carvings did.
Of the thousands of sculptures he made in his life, there was only one he wasn't willing to part with, a carving of a suit of armor. It would not stand out in a collection. He never attempted anything else like it. He took it to art shows and talked people out of buying it.
If you asked why he didn't sell it, he would not, or could not, tell you.
Amy Martinez Starke: 503-221-8534; email@example.com
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Born: Sept. 23, 1930, Everett, Wash. Died: July 26, 2007, Hillsboro Survivors: Wife, Joyce; sons Kelly, Scott and Sean; son Dan died in 2002; eight grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren Celebration of life: 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 16, Hillsboro Presbyterian Church Remembrances: American Cancer Society.
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