by Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder
The day that David Allen of Homer Louisiana found a pocket knife under his house, his world changed.
He was only 10. The year was 1935, and toys were not easily come by. With his new find, David started carving. Picking some saplings and cane, he created his own cane flutes, spinning tops, slingshots and shoe shine boxes. His father was a wood worker who made hickory axe handles and oak baskets, so David was no stranger to wood working.
One day while out for a walk, David cut a small gum stick which he decided to use as a walking cane. He sat down to trim the branches and the more he trimmed, the more he liked what he saw. Although whittling and carving bits of wood was a common pastime in his area, David had never seen anyone else carving walking sticks so he had to work with imagination and inspiration as his guide. What was at first a simple walking stick, quickly became a rather fancy looking piece of art. A hobby was born.
However, for the next twenty some years, David busied himself with making a living and raising a family of six boys with his wife Rosie Lee. He worked at a variety of jobs as a carpenter, plumber and a laborer in the logging industry, until late 1960 when his health began to decline. It was then he decided to retire and along with retirement came the freedom to carve and whittle the way he had when he was a young boy...
Letting the Bark Decide
David Allen cut saplings for his walking stick creations, letting the knots and bark decide the shape of the stick. Sometimes the root would become an elaborate handle - sometimes a snake. Other times his sticks would feature the face of a human or an animal, with rhinestones added for eyes. The only thing certain about his walking sticks was that no two were (or are) ever the same. Today, David often burns images into the clear pale hickory wood he uses, creating a black and white pattern of stripes, diamonds, and swirls.
David's work has become well known throughout the state of Louisiana and beyond and it was featured in an exhibit produced by the Alexandria Museum in central Louisiana (in fact, one of his sticks remains in their permanent collection). In 1981 and 1985 the accidental artist was asked to participate in the Festival of American Folk Life sponsored by The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. where one of his sticks still remains on display.
When asked, David said that he never dreamed that he would get so much recognition or that people would care so much about his walking sticks. For him, whittling the wood was just something that he had a knack for... something that he could do, and he considers it a gift from his creator. A gift from God.
The Allen family runs Allen Family Crafts, on South Main Street in Homer, Louisiana. Dropping in is a treat as you will not only have a chance to see David's work, but also the folk art creations of his wife Rosie Lee. She is renowned for her quilts and a terrific artist in her own right.