Born on a small Tennessee farm in 1923, Larry Armstrong soon looked for a way to get out from behind his father’s mule and embarked on a life that has taken him all over the world. His experiences included running off to join the circus at a young age, spending time on the southern railroads during the Great Depression, and eventually joined the U.S. military. Later on, his work with computer systems in the U.S. Air Force brought him a secure life in Washington State where he learned woodcarving.
After suffering a heart attack in 1980, Armstrong began carving as therapy to deal with the anxiety and the then-recommended inactivity of cardiac patients. While looking for something to do, Armstrong had come across a woodcarver producing a stylized bird at a local flea market. Fascinated, he took up the carving knife and has only put it down during his late wife’s battle with lung cancer because she could not tolerate the dust he generated. Armstrong primarily taught himself the craft, but also learned from carvers he knew while living in Washington State. He attributes his long life to the calming influence of carving. It has helped him to overcome illness and the death of his wife.
Most of Armstrong’s carving is done with a carving knife that employs interchangeable blades with the precaution of a cut-resistant glove. He says that every carver carries band-aids and that injuries are most often related to dull tools. Fortunately, six or seven stitches are the most he has ever needed. Armstrong likes to carve basswood that he brings from Virginia and catalpa, willow, and poplar, which he purchases locally.
Although he is primarily self-taught, Armstrong does have some family connections to carving. His grandfather was a woodworker who supported his wife for a time by carving walking sticks. While he took up his grandfather’s craft late in life, Armstrong carries on this family tradition with small carvings of human figures. His best-selling pieces have been Nativity scenes and more recently, carvings of the characters from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He also carves flowers, the iris being his particular choice for a subject.
Armstrong hopes to continue carving and perhaps become involved in teaching the craft to children in some capacity. While he intends to produce more nativity scenes and literary characters for local buyers, his latest subject is the gnome which recently became popular in part due to the television advertising for a travel website.
– Wiley Prewitt