By Dale Rodebaugh
Other people’s cast-off tree stumps are the stock in trade for itinerant wood carvers Jerry Stringham and son, Jerry Stringham III, better known as Little Jerry.
The pair set up operations on a spring afternoon at Tractor Supply Co. on Dominguez Drive in Durango.
“We make a good living,” said Stringham, who simply left it at that.
While Little Jerry was collecting wood, the senior Stringham talked about his 19 years as a woodcarver. He estimated he’s produced 30,000 pieces ranging in size from 1-foot tall to a 35-foot carving in sugar pine that depicts a mountain with trees.
All the work is done with chain saws of different sizes. He has a custom-designed chain that produces fuzzy coatings on animals.
Stringham carves any wood. Mesquite and ironwood don’t yield easily, but he knows how to work them, Stringham said. The average log is 16 inches in diameter.
“The carvings are designed for outdoor display,” Stringham said. “They won’t rot if you apply linseed oil. There are totem poles 97 years old on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that haven’t rotted.”
As a youngster, Stringham, 59, wasn’t allowed to play sports because he was epileptic. So he turned to art, a talent that ran in the family. His mother, Doris, designed clothes, and his sister, Donna Dewberry, popularized one-stroke painting.
Stringham did bronze and aluminum casting before he turned to woodcarving.
Bears are the most popular wooden figure, with eagles flying close behind, Stringham said. When he started carving horse heads, they, too, caught on.
An unfinished 6-foot bald eagle that greets visitors at the Dominguez Drive site, will sell for $2,900, he said. He sold a 17½-foot grizzly bear for $10,000. Totem poles cost $100 a foot, plus $10 for every inch in diameter at the 6-foot line.
Logs for carving are acquired from landfills and firewood companies, Stringham said. He also gets sawmill “drops,” logs that the mill can’t use.
Three years ago, he bought 26 semitruck loads of beetle-killed trees, which he went through in three months, Stringham said.
The Stringhams drive Dodge trucks that pull trailers outfitted with tiny living quarters. Stringham and his wife, Amy, have a 107-square-foot replica of an 1800 gypsy cabin. Little Jerry’s quarters are in a similar-sized log cabin.
They try to stay in cities that have a Tractor Supply outlet, Stringham said. They donate a percentage of their sales to whatever cause the business is supporting, and they will leave a carving for the business to raffle.
Stringham likes to visit mountain communities. But this winter, he’ll be in the Florida Keys carving sea turtles out of coral.