By Roger Schroeder
I was more than a little nervous before meeting Harold Enlow. Friends and acquaintances had been telling me that he is somewhat of a living legend, a prime mover in getting caricature carvings recognized and accepted as a form of art in the United States. In fact, most anyone has been influenced through his efforts as an instructor of instructors and students alike.
The day came when I finally met Harold. It was prior to his receiving Woodcarving Illustrated’s Woodcarver of the Year Award at the fourth Open House in March 2001, and I was the presenter. When we got through the obligatory introductions and handshakes, I found a man so self-effacing and humble that my fears of inadequacy quickly dispersed. The presentation went well, and he gladly received the plaque as well as a framed citation from the office of Arkansas’ governor. After a few words about how his home state must have been looking for an honest person to recognize, he went about his duties as lecturer and manned his booth with a total absence of fanfare. Weeks afterward, I could still imagine him saying, “Gosh, I don’t know what al the fuss is about. I’m just a carver.” My response to that is “Hardly.”
While his biography includes a stint in the Armed Services, running a carving shop in Dogpatch, commission work, writing 10 books on a variety of themes from cigar store Indians and Western figures to hillbillies and hoboes, his greatest contribution may well be his teaching career. Spanning nearly four decades with thousands of students having “graduated,” that relationship with other carvers has had a profound impact. People come away from the classes with an understanding of how a few simple tools can work magic on a piece of wood. And many of those carvers pass that knowledge on to others. The carving world has been a much better place thanks to Harold’s efforts.
Owing to the amount of influence Harold has had, rumors have circulated that he was around when the Titanic sank and even when Teddy Roosevelt charged a hill in Cuba. Again, I respond with “Hardly.” A robust man with a sprightly step, Harold is as youthful in spirit as any carver I know, and he’s not a day over 62.
Putting the humor aside, I learned that while Harold loves to tell a joke, tease his friends, and carve a humorous caricature, he is serious about and dedicated to his carving. I watched him work, observed how effortlessly he removes wood, listened to him explain what he has learned about anatomy over the years, the improvements he has made in his carving, and how he looks at people. I was in a good position to see exactly why Harold has been so successful as a teacher.
While hillbillies are his favorite subjects—he endows them with misshapen hats, beards, long hair, and funny faces—Harold doesn’t limit himself to these figures. He is just as comfortable carving a leprechaun, a troll, a cowboy, or even a hunter who shot a cow by mistake. A story is projected through an attitude, a gesture, a pose, or an expression that can be wistful, gleeful, sexy, or ugly. He consistently captures the flavor of exaggeration and humor in his carvings. The people and animals Harold carves are treasures just as much as he is.