CORBIN — By Bobbie Poynter / Features Editor
Seeing is believing. That is, until you take a look at the underwater worlds Stan West has created. Once you realize everything in the display you’re looking at is carved completely out of wood — the fish, the reeds, the rocks, the leaves — you still won’t believe it.
“I don’t have a choice about it. I’ve been doing it so long now, it’s a part of who I am. It’s what I need to do to be happy and fulfilled.”
So says Williamsburg’s 62-year-old Stan West, of his love for wildlife carving and painting. Stan’s specialty is local species of fish.
“That’s because I only carve what I catch,” West clarified. “There are species out there that I haven’t done simply because of that.”
West still loves to fish, particularly with his brother Greg, who the Williamsburg artist claims is the real fisherman in the family. Brother Greg lives on a lake in Burnside and still gets to fish nearly every day. Stan’s other longtime fishing buddy, Ray Martin, lives in Corbin.
“Ray and I go fishing together all the time,” said West. “We have big adventures.”
‘Big adventures,’ like the time Stan told his wife he was off to do some ‘field research’ as he jumped into the truck with his buddy and headed for the water.
“We went out on the lake, and I ended up spending the day bailing out the boat ‘cause Ray forgot to put the plug in,” West laughed. “Needless to say, I didn’t get much ‘research’ done that day.”
West is a self-taught fish carver. Although he has a bachelor’s degree in art education from the former Cumberland College — along with both a bachelor’s and master’s in education — it wasn’t until 1997 that he took inspiration from a magazine article on carving fish and began the arduous task of carving life-like creations out of wood.
“I started out in oil painting,” said West. “A friend talked me into duck hunting, and I saw all the beautiful and different species, each with its own delicate beauty, and I just had to put them on canvas.”
However, as fishing was the artist’s first love, it was only natural that he took his skills to the next level with the sport in which he was most familiar.
According to West, a fairly simple composition can take from as little as a few weeks to several months or more to complete, depending on the amount of detailing he adds to the piece. He might also spend more than half the day working without a break.
“If the magic is flowing, I may go to bed at midnight and get back up at 3 (a.m.),” he explained.
In May 2013, West entered his first-ever carving competition in Springfield, Ill. The World Taxidermy and Fish Carving Championship included artists from around the world, competing in different levels and categories for titles and bragging rights. There Stan West won two first place awards, a second place award and a Best in Category at the Miniature Division competition.
“I didn’t have any idea how my work would stack up against everyone else’s,” said West. “I just wanted to see where my skill level was compared to the pros. I like the competition because it forces me to create and come up with something quite good.”
And ‘quite good’ turned out to be more than enough as West’s entries in the competition earned him enough points to compete against the pros in the next competition.
Stan does not consider himself a professional carver, although his work has been on display locally at Cumberland Falls’ Dupont Lodge and at Williamsburg’s Old-Fashioned Days. Most of his sales have been through his website as the price of his artwork can range from $400 to $2,000 each.
In the meantime, the retired Williamsburg teacher continues to create one-of-a-kind works of art in his basement ‘man cave’ with his ever-present companion cuddled up on the beat-up stool next to him. Patchie, Stan’s 14-and-a-half-year-old shih tzu, is nearly blind and deaf, but still manages to navigate his home, inside and out, through memory and habit.
Stan West is the son of Warda and the late Harold West, former sheriff of Whitley County. He is the second son of four children, born and raised in Williamsburg. Three of the West children, including Stan, are retired schoolteachers out of the Williamsburg school system.
“I miss the kids,” said West of his teaching days. “I had the chance to meet a lot of wonderful people, and I really kind of miss that. I also miss a lot of the colleagues I worked with. I may no longer recognize their faces, but apparently, they still remember mine. I guess I’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t matter so much to the kids what subject you teach. It’s about how they remember you as a person.”
You can check out Stan West’s website at http://www.woodchipsnoil.com/ or look him up on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WoodChipsNOilArtByStanWest.
You can also reach him at 606-280-1349.