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Mental Wanderings About Creativity

By Bob Travis and Harold Enlow

The following article was originally written by Bob Travis and Harold Enlow and appeared in the Log, the newsletter of the California Carvers Guild. Thanks to both Bob and Harold for their permission to once again share their thoughts with you.

Bob Travis:

This article is mostly about Harold's thoughts on how he comes up with new ideas for carvings, but since this is my column I'm going to ramble on for a while first.

The questions that people ask! Once we get past the usual ones like "what kind of wood is it?", or "how long did it take you to carve that?" and "do you paint them yourself?", the next one is usually "where do you get your ideas?" Actually, coming up with the idea is the hard part. Just last evening I finished a carving that I started 3 1/2 weeks ago. If I didn't have this darn day job it would have gone faster. It is a fairly simple standing cowboy with a beer can in his left hand, held out in front, and a whiskey bottle held behind his back in the right hand. I named him "Mixed Drinks." Carving him was easy. Coming up with the idea, then designing the piece was what consumed most of the time. So how did I get the idea? To be truthful, it just kind of evolved. A couple of years ago I heard a country song with a line in it that went something like this: "Lord, I wish hard livin' didn't come so easy for me." That just sounds like a drunk cowboy to me. I've played around with that idea for quite a while, now, and I finally decided to do a scene with that title that features a couple of drunk cowboys. In the meantime I needed a single figure for an upcoming exhibit, so I decided to do just one drunk cowboy. AS he was nearing completion, and wanting to save the above title for a more complex piece, I was trying to think up a good idea. When my wife saw the beer can and the whiskey bottle she said "it looks like mixed drinks." So in answer to the oft asked questions, that's usually how it happens for me.

Other people have different ways for coming up with ideas for carvings. Harold Enlow was in Sacramento for a seminar and during one of our more probing bull session I asked him how he came up with new ideas. "Well," he said, "it usually happens when I'm driving." As I explored the topic further, I began to question his sanity. Then, the more I thought about it, and remembering some discussions that I've had with carvers like Dave Dunham, Rich Wetherbee, and John Burke, I decided there might be something to this after all. These people all have several things in common. They are great carvers, they are excellent artists, they always come up with new ideas, and they are all a bit crazy (I hope none of them read this!) "OK," I said to Harold, "lets talk about this." The ensuing discussion was most enlightening. After we finished I asked Harold if he would mind writing down some of this for my Log column. The following text showed up in my mail box a couple of weeks later.

Before getting to Harold's thoughts I would like to introduce him to our readers. Harold is one of the founding members of the Caricature Carvers of America. He lives in Ozark hill country in Dogpatch, Arkansas, with his wife Elaine and daughter Katie. That should tell you something right away, not that he has a wife and daughter, but that he lives in Dogpatch. Actually , he really lives down the road a few miles from Dogpatch, but Dogpatch is part of his address. For those of you not familiar with that part of the country, Dogpatch is about an hour south of Branson, Missouri and near Harrison, Arkansas. For several years Harold operated a carving shop in Dogpatch where he carved and sold the characters made famous in the old Al Capp "L'il Abner" comic strip. In recent years Harold has become very involved in teaching. He travels around the country giving about 30 seminars each year. His carvings are mostly of Ozark characters, cowboys, cowgirls, hobos, and all sorts of crazy animals. He has written nine books, beginning way back in 1975 with Carving Figure Caricatures in the Ozark Style to his more recent How To Carve Hobos. He tells me a couple of more books are currently in the mill. I have referred to him in other writings as the Dean of American Caricature Carvers. He has the required longevity, he has written the books and done the teaching, and he's a good guy. I think that qualifies him to be the Dean.

In addition to carving, Harold also writes great short stories. Sometime perhaps I can talk him into sharing one with us. This a getting kind of long-winded, but before concluding this introduction I want to share one of my favorite Enlow stories. This one is even better the the Hillbilly Spider-man fiasxo that we talked about back in the November '93 column. Harold got his start caving back in the late 1950's while he was in the service and stationed in Okinawa. He discovered Andy Anderson's book on carving cowboys and decided to give it a try. Apparently carving wood was in short supply in Okinawa, so Harold cut sections off the posts that supported the latrines for his cowboys. He said that people noticed that the latrines were disappearing, but they couldn't figure out where they were going. I guess it's a good thing that they didn't keep him there too long. Following are Harold's comments:


Harold Enlow:

Well after that long, rambling introduction, it looks like Bob is finally going to give me a turn. Here goes! You are probably saying to yourself, "Oh, no, not that nutty person from Dog-whatever again!" Well, you are a good guesser. This time I'm going to mull over a few ideas about creativity and how ideas for carvings originate. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that most, or all, of you find that the same things work for you.

First off, how do you get your inspirations? Do they fall out of the sky and hit you in the gray matter? Wouldn't that be neat? I suppose we all have something pop into our mind once in a while. Usually it takes some kind of catalyst such as a conversation with one of your bright friends. Sometimes you see something that just strikes you as funny. Maybe you see things different than most folks. To be really creative you at least need to have a strange sense of humor.

It doesn't hurt to be receptive to everything you see and be able to twist it in your direction so it is usable. I've noticed that I get more ideas with more input from my surroundings. So, if you stay home locked up in your closet you won't be as creative. I wouldn't do the closet bit myself. Smile! It seems like my most creative time is when I'm driving long distances. My mind won't be doing much for a while, but I know it will soon come alive, and ideas will start running like moonshine from a broken jug. Pardon the analogy. I make sure I have paper and pen ready before I ever leave on a trip. After things turn on I have to stop every little bit to get it all written down. The hard part is to later sort it all out. Some people thing best while playing golf, or perhaps while sitting on the john. Gosh, I hope none of my friends are john thinkers. That's awful.

Now, I'm just getting started but old Bob went on so long with the introduction that we've run out of space for this month. So, I'll finish up with a few more thoughts in the next issue.

This article will conclude in the November/December issue of WOM