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Pa. man carves out a creative hobby

March 21, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Charles Myers Jr. never knew Frank Feathers and was not inspired by Feathers' work when he started out on his own, but Myers is leaving his own mark alongside one of the area's famous hobo woodcarvers.

Feathers, a talented carver who roamed Franklin and Washington counties and environs in the 1920s through the 1940s, was a drifter and a drunk, according to a historical essay on Feathers written by Shawn Meyers of Mercersburg, Pa.

Feathers was known for carving canes in trade for a few nights lodging, a few meals or a fifth of whiskey.

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His canes sold for $5 or $6. Today his canes are highly collectible and often bring $5,000 to $6,000 or more at auction on the rare occasion when one comes on the block.

Feathers died in a Frederick County, Md., poorhouse in 1951 at age 74.

Myers' trademark is also hand-carved canes, but his sell in the $300 range. He said he's not in it for the money. "It's a hobby," he said.

Myers, 66, lives on Zarger Road and is retired from Allegheny Energy's engineering department.

He did his first carving, a whitetail deer in action on the butt of his deer rifle, in 1970.

"I wanted a carving on my gun but I couldn't find anyone who could do it so I did it myself," he said. He cut a picture of a deer out of a magazine and went to work on his walnut gun stock.

It led to commissions from gun owners who wanted their guns personalized.

Myers' mother got him interested in canes. She was getting older and needed one to help her walk.

"She wanted a plain one, but I fancied it up a bit. I carved the Lord's Prayer on it," he said.

That was in 1976. Since then, Myers' nimble fingers have carved dozens of canes, mostly on commission.

Myers said he spends five to six hours a day in a shop he built in his backyard.

Racks and walls are filled with the oddly shaped carving knives, lathes, saws and drills that make up the tools of a woodcarver's craft.

He carves on walnut, maple and cherry, his favorite wood. "It has a tighter grain and it holds good sharp edges," he said. Cherry wood takes a good hand-rubbed finish, too, he said, "That's the only kind l do."

He signs and numbers every cane he makes.

Number five, for example, is a testament to wildlife. Running down the thin, circular curves of the cane are carvings of a bear, deer, squirrel, eagle and a turkey.

He's carved canes for sportsmen, train and car enthusiasts, fraternal organizations and veterans groups. He made one for a carpenter who wanted his tools on it, one for an auctioneer who wanted antique furniture carved on his cane, a physician who wanted the names of all of his schools on his cane and a lot of canes with the Lord's Prayer for church groups.

Myers has carved canes with flowers and wildlife images. He did one in commemoration of Sept. 11 showing the Twin Towers before and after the planes struck. He's carved several containing family genealogies.

He said he averages 80 hours on each cane.

One in particular that he remembers took twice that long. He was commissioned to carve a cane with the names of all presidents of Greencastle's Old Home Week Celebration, which has been held every three years since 1902. "It had 528 letters on it," Myers said.

He's currently working on cane number 55, a commission from a Vietnam War veteran, who wants his military record and decorations carved for posterity.

Early on, Myers made stenciled patterns that he would follow with his carving tools. Now he makes his patterns on computer.

He rarely messes up on spelling thanks to his wife, Nancy. She goes over every pattern before he starts to carve. "I give the pattern to her then I walk out of the room so she can concentrate. She's my spell checker," he said.

He doubts his canes will ever reach the level of fame of Frank Feathers.

"He was an excellent carver. There are a lot of people who do better than I do. I do my thing and what comes out comes out. With me this is not a business," he said.

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