Carver Randall “Termite” Head has spent more than 20 years of his life turning dead trees into works of art — no two alike and almost always to the delight of passersby.
Head, 43, travels the country carving old stumps into masterful pieces of art with a small chain saw and a few other small tools. Typically he gets the permission of the property owner, but from time to time a setting calls to him. Head said he likes to spread the goodness of what he does. He has works of art across the United States and has shipped some work overseas.
“I have left a few here and there in places where I just thought Mother Nature needed a little adjustment,” said Head. “Recently, I did a tour of the Indian Springs Farmstead in Petersburg, (Illinois), and I drove through a little bit of his countryside out there, his trails and horse trails and stuff and decided to stop and carve a bear in a stump that was begging me to carve a bear in it — without asking permission. But the landowner was more than happy, for sure.”
Head has spent the past five days carving “Father Time” into the trunk of an ash tree that was cut down when the owners realized they had lost the battle to save it from the emerald ash borer. The ash borer feed on the tree as the pest matures from an egg. The trunk of the tree was left in place so that Head could transform it into a work of art. The property owners, Jim and Brenda Stewart, of 218 Schramm Drive, Pekin, gave Head some ideas of what they wanted, and Head developed the concept from that and went to work on Monday. It is Head’s first carving in Pekin.
Jim Stewart said he had dead branches cut from the tree three times and then realized the battle was lost and had the tree cut down.
Father Time will be a free-standing stump carving. There are various chemicals used to protect the piece from the elements, said Head — ultraviolet light protection; mold and mildew protection; polyurethane clear coat, treatment to preserve the stump and roots; and chemicals to “keep the bugs and critters out.” Each year, the Stewarts will have to treat the stump and seal it to preserve it.
The only critters that Brenda Stewart wants near the carving, which has attracted people to the area to watch Head work, are the ceramic fairies that will be home to the garden she builds around the carving.
“Father Time looks after the fairies in the Black Forrest,” said Head. He said that when the Stewarts approached him about the carving, they only said they wanted something to do with fairies. They left the rest to Head’s artistic mind.
Head grew up on a horse farm in Tremont, where his father, Bobby Head, was also an artist who worked in wood, metal and other materials. Head’s first carving was of a walking stick, he said. At that time, he had no idea he would make carving his life.
“When I was 18-years-old, somebody told me I couldn’t do it,” said Head. “I’ve been doing it ever since.
“I grew up on a horse farm there in Tremont and was always whittling on sticks and started at a pretty young age, I would say. My dad was an artist and a craftsman. His name was Bobby Head, and he worked with anything from metal to wood and was very creative, so he was a good inspiration for me and a good roll model. I always looked up to him growing up and the interesting things that he was always working on. Dad was a good influence on me.”
Head said he feels he lives the life of a retired person everyday as he “travels all over the country, stay at lodges and cabins and experiences some really fantastic adventures. His family travels with him. His sons have helped with carvings around the country.
“It really has been a blessing,” he said.
The homeowners “throw some ideas at me and lots of time the homeowners give me the artistic freedom to adjust and do what I see in the piece of wood that we have to work with, which is always a blessing to be able to put my own touch on things.”
“I can do pretty much anything anybody wants as far as recreations of pictures, replicas of animals or ideas that they have,” said Head.
Head carved the world’s largest working duck call for Rich-N-Tone Calls in Stutgart, Ark.
“It’s over 16-foot long,” said Head. “It’s not the biggest piece I’ve done. But it is the biggest duck call in the world, and it works.
“It’s lung-powered and on display at the duck call company. It was a memorial for the man that started the duck call company down there. He had passed away, and I had heard of how outstanding of a person he was in the community with all the Little League, softball, football and just a real good man, so we thought it would be a good idea for the world’s largest duck call manufacturer to have the world’s largest duck call.”
The artistic lifestyle has been a blessing, said Head.
“(I like) the people I get to meet, traveling and being outdoors, and putting a smile on people faces,” said Head. “A lot of people have sentimental attachment to the trees that don’t last — their father may have planted it, or they bought the house because they loved the tree in the front yard, which was the case here.
“And when Mother Nature does what Mother Nature does and storm damage and bugs and things happen that end the longevity of the tree, it’s always nice to be able to do something with it that will be appreciated.”
The tree did have meaning to Brenda Stewart. When they bought the house, she wanted to put a swing on one of the long limbs, but the limb became compromised over time.
“(Head) chose the design, I just said I wanted a fairy, something to do with fairies,” said Brenda.
“We’re not sure what he’s going to be doing,” said Jim Stewart on Tuesday. “We looked at what he’s already done, and we had enough faith in him to just turn him loose.”
One of the finishing touches of the project was a rope and wooden swing hanging from one of the cobble tree branches remaining on the stump.
“They did send me some pictures of things that they liked that gave me a good idea of what we could do with this particular piece of work,” said Head.
Brenda said she is “ecstatic” with the work.
“I told (Head) Monday, OK, you can quit, I’m happy,” she said. “I’m going to put little fairies there.
“I had them out for the last couple of years, but this year I had to take them in because of the winter. “ She said they now have Father Time to look over them.