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January 9, 2013

Local carver: It's more than just a piece of wood

McALESTER — Some men look at a piece of wood and see... well, a piece of wood.

Jerry Sparks sees more than that though.

When someone gave him a piece of cottonwood, he eyed it until something began to take shape, at least in his creative imagination.

“I was asked to do a buffalo and I said ‘I’ll do it if I can,”’ said Sparks, who was born at Buffalo Creek, grew up near Hartshorne and who now lives in Kiowa.

Not only does Sparks like buffalo, he also considered carving one because it’s the mascot of the McAlester Buffaloes and he figures it would match the theme of the buffalo statues around the city.

Accepting the challenge, Sparks said he worked on the carving for months to achieve the form he wanted. Adding an embellishment, he attached it to a deer antler, which provides a dual purpose. He considers it aesthetically pleasing, fitting with the rustic nature of the carving and it also serves as a base, to keep the carved buffalo from being knocked over by accident.

Sparks has a long background in carving. He recalled how he started as a teen.

“When I was 15, I started carving dogs sitting on their haunches,” Sparks said.

It didn’t take long for his artwork to find admirers and he made gifts of several of the pieces. He even knows of two that are still around. One belongs to a friend who now lives in Bakersfield, Calif., and another is at a home in Lynnwood.

Sparks worked mostly in pine in those days, but said he eventually “graduated” to using walnut.

“You can do more intricate work,” he said.

Sparks takes pride in using the same type of tools that carvers have used for ages.

“I don’t use no electric tools, just knives and chisels,” he said.

Sparks carves some of his pieces from a solid piece of walnut wood, so that the figures and landscapes in the carving and the “frame” are all one piece. Many of those depict nature or Native American themes.

Carving the single buffalo figure represents a sort of departure.

Sparks said he’s considering donating the piece to the Wichita Mountain Game Reserve at Lawton, although he hasn’t yet decided for sure. He left open the possibility it could end up closer to home.

“It’s my gift to and for the people of McAlester and elsewhere that requested the red buffalo,” he said.

Sparks said this could well be the last major carving he creates.

“My abilities are winding down,” he said.

Sparks, who loves to spread the gospel, closed with one of his favorite Bible verses, from Ecclesiastes 3:1:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every person under heaven: A time to be born and a time to die ... a time to weep and a time to laugh.”

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

For more on this story, see the print or electronic editions of the McAlester News-Capital. Click here for print edition home delivery or click here to see the Smart Edition for your computer, tablet, e-reader or smartphone.

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