Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Street Artist, A Walking Stick And A Lesson In Living

Olu, pronounced “Oh-Lou”, is a black man in his late fifties with great, rounded shoulders and an easy manner.  He’s a business man, artist and a sage.  Olu sits on a low wall outside of a restaurant in downtown Cleveland where he carves elaborate walking sticks with a folding knife.

Olu and Me in his studio
“That’s beautiful,” I told him as I walked up to him.  Across his lap was a piece of cedar about four feet long and an inch or two thick.  He held it firm in one hand, turning it, as the other gripped the knife and gingerly transformed the wood into an ornate and rustic piece of art.  Where he stripped the bark, the alabaster of the pulp provided a contrast to the dark exterior.

“My raw materials are cheap,” he said with a smile.

“How long does it take to make one of them?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “each one takes about eight to ten hours.  I try to get about five dollars an hour to help with my room.  This one here is about sixty dollars, but I am willing to negotiate.”  Business man.

As he handed the mostly completed stick to me, I immediately noticed the intricate detail of the face.  It reminded me of something you would see on Easter Island or from a market in Jamaica.

“Where do you get the inspiration for the design?”

He chuckled.  “I don’t get inspiration.  I look at the stick and listen to what it wants to be.  Then I just bring it out.  I guess you could say I uncover what is already there.” He grabs another piece of cedar, raw and untouched.  “Like this one here.  I was looking at it this morning and I see a wizard.” Artist.  (Those words have really stuck with me the last few days.  Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I like that idea.)

The Handle
“How did you start doing this?” I knew I was asking a lot of questions, but his story was compelling.

“Well,” he stopped working and looked at me, “Seven years ago I had surgery on both of my knees.”  He pulled up one of his pant legs to reveal a massive scar.  “I could only walk with two canes - hobbling around, mostly.  I was miserable.  One day I asked God what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  So I just pulled out a knife and started carving a few bumps and rings in one of my canes.  One day, a guy asked me where I got that old cane with the design in it.  When I told him I made it he asked if he could buy it.  I said, ‘sure.’  God kinda led me here.  I’m grateful.”  Sage.

There was no way I was leaving without the walking stick. 

While Olu uncovered what was already in that ordinary piece of cedar, I uncovered something that was already there, too.  I uncovered a talented artist who claims he can’t draw.  I uncovered a wise man that is probably often overlooked because his studio is a wall. 

For fifty dollars I have a very fine piece of original art – the only one like it in the entire world.  But it hangs on my wall not as art, it hangs there to remind me that there is a lot in this world to uncover if we are just willing to look.  And of course, it reminds me of Olu.


Kristine said...

Excellent. Most excellent!

Mark said...

Personally, I would stay away from this guy. He seems nice enough, but I recently paid him $60 for a walking stick and he indicated as it was cold, he wanted to finish it and then would call me to pick it up. he called once and we spoke and then I could never get a hold of him again. Sad, really as he asked for $45 - 60 for the stick and I offered the max. Well, pretty much par for society these days. I'm sure I'll see him again as he is often out during Cavs games, etc. and maybe I'll get the stick he promised (he really does amazing work), but I would be remiss if I didn't warn people to be wary given my experiences.

Pete said...

Olu is the salt of the earth and a staple downtown. I showed him your slanderous post and it did not go over well. One might suggest that rather than smearing a good man's name, instead you might venture out to where he can ALWAYS be found: E. 4th or in front of the casino. Quit crying and come get your artisan walking stick.

Anonymous said...

Pete - Mark Twain once wisely said, "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please". Good advice. Nothing in my post is factually incorrect, nor did I attack Olu in any way and in fact said that perhaps I would get the stick which I ordered and that he did amazing work. Also, given you don't have the facts, let me fill you in. I went on several occasions hoping to run into Olu and never did. Is your suggestion that I should go each and every day at night with the hopes of running into him? Before you attack someone, you really should understand what the situation is. I did recently run into him and he indicated someone had stolen his phone. I gave him my card and my hopes is he will call me and I will get what was promised. If not, it's $60 bucks and probably not the end of the world.