If you live in town, you may have noticed a guy cruising around on his bike with a basket full of palm frond boots. Most folks would immediately assume he was collecting kindling for a bon fire since Christmas is over and the season for red nosed reindeer has passed. Not so.
Jim, the palm carver, is gathering his canvases for some seriously cool Florida art.
I was lucky enough to meet Jim and his wife Sherry several years ago, as they had fled the winter weather of their home state of Robinson, Illinois to come enjoy the simple life and sunshine in Flagler Beach. However Jim is not just a snowbird, he was born in my hometown O-town and he and Sherry have actually been enjoying our paradise for over 12 years. Their daughter decided to relocate here on life changing whim and it didn’t take much convincing for them to maintain yearly visits. Seasonally renting a place near me, we have crossed paths and friendly conversations over the years. One day on our afternoon passings, Jim shared with me his amazing hobby. I honestly don’t remember what he had carved, but I do remember thinking I had never seen anything like it and for some reason wanted others to know too.
Years later here we are, and now I get to share his story and skills with all of you!
So Jim, how long have you been carving?
Well, I was camping in an RV park off US 1 several years back and started to get board. I was looking around the campground and noticed these palms laying all over the place. I started looking at them closer and noticed one looked kind of like an alligator. I got my knife out of my pocket and started whittling it down. I was making it for my grandson and it was the first thing I had ever carved.
What, you haven’t been carving wood all these years??
No, first thing ever. And these palms are kind of tricky. I did a little bit of research and found out they are more closely related to grass than trees (I did not know that!!- me) I have to be careful because some directions are easier to cut than others and they are so fibrous.
Do you use any special tools?
Not really. I have the knife I carry in my pocket and a friend of mine gave me a set of utility knives. I have also found that really cheap emery boards are good for making small details, as I can cut them down into points. And sandpaper is always useful.
But you are artistic?
Yes, my dad and grandfather both liked to draw. I wanted to be an illustrator but ended up going straight to work after high school for a glass company. My favorite thing to draw are horses but really any kind of animal. I also like making sand sculptures on the beach. One time I made an 8ft alligator. There was a guy that approached me the next day and asked if I had made it. He seemed kind of mad and then told me that he and his daughter had been on the beach the evening before with flashlights and thought it was real! I also enjoy making Play-doh sculptures with my grandson. We can spend hours at the table creating different animals.
How long does it take you to make a palm carving?
I don’t know, a couple days. I loose track of time when I am doing it. I just like to go sit outside, enjoy a beer and listen to music while I do it. Sherry sometimes has to remind me to eat.
What’s your process?
First I draw the picture and then tape it to the palm (boot.) I found that trying to draw on the palm itself doesn’t really work that well. Then I carve around my paper stencil. I’ll flip back and forth when adding the details and I use scotch tape to hold down the different sections when I’m done so they don’t peel. When I’m finished I apply the sealer. That step always takes it to the next level because the character of the palm really stands out.
Does it take long to find good palms?
Yeah, I have to be careful of termites. I like the bigger ones because it’s easier to make more details. Sherry helped me come up with rig to get the high ones out of trees using a broom stick, clothes line and a hook. I also like to look through them and be inspired by what I see on the palm itself and how it will add to the detail of what I might carve.
Do you take a supply back home with you?
Yes I do. And I have a friend who has also brought some home for me when my truck is already packed full (He needed a custom one made :))
So you do custom orders?
Yes, one time I did one with a Segway on it as private joke gift exchange for a person.
Do you sell these anywhere? (Ed note- my store is the only place you can get them, unless you know Jim personally :)!!
No, I really just donate them, give them away as gifts or barter with them. I am pretty low key and don’t have the urge to tell people what I’m doing with my free time. Sherry is actually the one who continues to encourage my artistic abilities.
Okay, the last question of almost every interview I have ever given is… What are some of your favorite things about Flagler Beach?
The people, they are very friendly here. I also like the laid back feel of this place. Coming over the bridge just makes you feel at ease.
Well Jim, thank you so much for sharing your story and your unique and wonderful art with us and tell Sherry thank you for encouraging you!
To purchase any of these palm carvings feel free to cruise by:
Flagler Surf Art & Stuff
211 S. Third St. #6 (next door to Flagler Board Shack)
Hours: M 12-4, T to Fri 10-4, Saturday by appt. :::: we are also happy to ship!
Palm Carvings available:
beach scene and more!