Leroy Morris has a medical condition that causes his hands to tremor. But when this 86-year-old Alhambra man starts carving wood, he has the precision of a surgeon — just maybe not a plastic surgeon.
You name it — nature scenes, dogs, shoes — he can take the picture in his mind and pull it from the grains. Just don’t ask him to carve a likeness of someone’s face.
“I can’t do them,” he shrugged.
Morris has been a carver for as long as he can remember. During the 32 years he worked as a switchman at Granite City Steel, he would take a knife and chunk of wood with him. During down time, he would carve, honing his skills whenever he could.
In his retirement, he has spent countless additional hours at his hobby. He often draws inspiration from magazines and coloring books. One of his recent creations, a leaf, he wants to give to someone for a candy bowl. He is currently working on a set of “wood spirits,” which he plans to hang by his curtains.
“The way I have been working lately, they might take a year to finish,” he said and grinned. “Normally, they would take me a week to a week and half to do.”
Morris has been diagnosed with essential tremors (ET), a brain disorder that causes a part of his hands to shake uncontrollably, but it always stops when he is carving.
“I have never cut myself carving,” he said.
Morris is a meticulous artist — but not a perfectionist.
“I like to let my imagination be my guide,” he said. “If I make a mistake, I redesign.”
And in worse-case scenarios, his creations turn into firewood.
“I have made a lot of firewood over the years,” he joked.
He’s also made a lot he has liked. So many, he can’t even say which is his favorite.
“Oh gads. They are all my favorites,” he said and smiled.
But his wife of more than 64 years, Naomi, knows the one she prefers. It’s a religious carving featuring a cross and praying hands.
The critics liked it, too. In 2012, Morris won second place in the People’s Choice division at the Belleville Area Woodcarvers Holzschnitzers show, which attracts some of the country’s best carvers.
“This is the one and only piece I made she wanted to have as hers,” he said.
And have it she did. It hangs on the wall inside their apartment at Hitz Memorial Home in Alhambra.
Anyone else who would like to see Morris’ work can do so on May 3, when Hitz Memorial Home will be holding an art show from 1 to 3 p.m.