As a boy growing up in eastern Oklahoma, Willard Stone spent much of his free time drawing. Admiring the work of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, he dreamed of becoming a painter. When he was thirteen, a dynamite cap he was holding exploded and he lost segments of two fingers and the thumb of his right hand. Deeply affected, he withdrew, thinking he would never become the artist he hoped to be.
But Stone’s deep desire to create motivated him to rise above his disability. He began shaping little animal figures using the wet clay from the ditches near his home. Eventually he discovered that the medium of wood appealed to him more, and he adapted carving tools to fit his injured hand. He was transformed by his love of wood and his desire to shape it.
This lavishly illustrated volume presents the life and work of woodcarver Willard Stone. Four authors, including staff of the Gilcrease Museum and one of Stone’s grandsons, provide insight into the artist’s biography, his carving techniques, his sources of inspiration, and his legacy as an Oklahoma artist. These essays and more than 200 full-color and black-and-white photographs of Stone’s pieces follow the grain of a human life, visible in sublimely carved wood.
Stone’s sculptures exhibit his love of nature, representing fertility, birth, regeneration, and the seasons while reflecting his deep understanding of the balance of nature. His masterful use of the wood grain, an integral element in his carvings, demonstrates his thoughtfulness in the planning stages of the artistic process. Referring to himself as a “folklorist in wood,” Stone carved his philosophy of life into his works, creating stories that glowed with universal truths and resonated with his own personality. In addition to his ability to create beautiful forms, it is his gift of storytelling that lends the carvings of Willard Stone their profound mark of distinction.
Randy Ramer is Director of Exhibitions and Publications for Gilcrease Museum.