The 1991 ice storm destroyed many things in Rochester, but it created something in W.H. Scott.
The Rochester resident spent time picking through the cords and cords of wood downed and shattered by the heavy ice, looking for interesting shapes. He hated the idea of throwing away useful wood, so he started to use it to make walking sticks.
He continued to find and collect sticks, honing his craft of shaping them into walking sticks and eventually starting to sell them. Today the retired 56-year-old has parlayed the early experience crafting wood into a successful trade as an artisan, and his walking sticks have found a large audience at art shows and festivals.
After Scott exhausted the sticks that had the shape and natural inclination to become walking sticks, he used the rest of the scraps to make business card holders and letter openers. After that he still had some bits left, so he made jewelry. The experience opened Scott's eyes to the artistic possibilities of found wood.
Scott still gets his raw materials directly from nature. He waits until the city sends crews to trim the trees in its public parks, following after them and picking up interesting pieces. He also goes to local orchards after pruning time to find apple and cherry wood.
"I use all recycled stuff, things other people were tossing out," says Scott, who calls his venture Created by Nature.
His early creations were whittled to give a more polished look to the stick's natural shape, but after a few years Scott met an artist from Georgia, Arthur Dilbert, who taught him to carve actual images into the wood. The artist had come to the Memorial Art Gallery for a lecture, and Scott was able to connect with him through an odd series of events.
"He went to a Kinko's to get some business cards printed, and the lady who did my cards was there and told him we have someone locally who does sticks," Scott says. "He had his daughter call me and say her father was interested in coming over, and I thought she meant interested in buying a stick.
"Then I see him get out of the car with his stick and I knew he didn't want to buy anything. I tell you, I've never seen anything like that stick."
Dilbert showed Scott how to carve out the images that appear naturally in the sticks, taking the bumps and bends and turning them into snakes, dragons and eagles. It was slow learning at first for Scott.
"What he did in an hour took me a week," he says.
Scott caught another break when he made a special walking stick as a gift for actor James Earl Jones, who was coming to Rochester for a lecture. Jones loved the stick but did not want to take it for free.
"He says if I was going to sell it, what would it cost," Scott says. "I told him probably $500. He told me he would send me a check for it, and then he did. That had a lot of influence on me continuing to do it."
The sticks have become popular with other celebrities. Jimmy Mathis, Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Garth Fagan have bought them.
Aside from walking sticks, Scott also creates candlesticks and jewelry. He sells the creations mostly at summer festivals and art shows, with sticks selling for $40 to $450 and jewelry from $12 to $35. From the work he creates on his own in his Rochester home, Scott says he sells close to 30 sticks a year and three or four of the more expensive, detailed variety.
He finds there are two types of customers-those who want the utility and strength of the sticks to actually aid them in walking, and art collectors who covet the more detailed designs of the carved variety. Because many of the designs are just enhancements of the natural shape of the wood, it sometimes takes a careful eye to be able to pick out the details, Scott says.
"I found that kids always see it right away," Scott says. "Adults don't always see that."
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