Retired officer raising "cane"

(MT. CARMEL, Tenn.) -- When Roy Colburn retired from the Memphis Police Department last year, he figured it was time for a walking cane. Or, a bunch of walking canes, to be more precise.

After finishing his career in law enforcement, he has embarked on an artistic pursuit. Whether it becomes a second career depends on how his hand-carved canes are accepted.

So far, he's sold a few and given a couple away - but Colburn is still looking for the marketing coup that will increase demand for his canes. In the meantime, Colburn has been showing his handiwork at various events in the region.

"At Mason Trade Day a couple weeks ago, I sold one. At LaGrange (History Day) I sold two," said Colburn, 61, who lives with his wife Carolyn in the Mt. Carmel community near Covington.

Each of his walking canes is unique; no two are ever the same. Colburn digs up small sumac trees to make his canes from the trunk and root. The shape of the root dictates what he will make of it.

A container in his house holds dozens of canes he has made since starting the hobby in June 1999. By the time he retired in September 1999, he already had about 10 finished canes.

The roots of the sumac twist at almost right angles to the thin, strong trunk. When you walk with one of Colburn's canes, it's actually being held upside down from how it grew in the wild.

Colburn strips the bark off the pieces, leaving white wood that he usually stains and seals with polyurethane varnish. Of course, before that final step there comes the process of turning it into a bird, snake, shark, mermaid, rhinoceros, horse or any of the myriad subjects Colburn visualizes in the wood.

"I cut the roots off until I see what I'm going to make of it. It takes a lot of imagination," he said. "As I get there, I stop cutting."

Colburn uses an electric carving tool and a wood burner to draw many of the features in the wood. He complains that his artistic skills are not yet as accomplished as he would like.

For the eyes of birds, snakes and some other animals, Colburn imbeds beads, rhinestones or plastic eyes in the head.

"I knew him before he was raising cane," joked Pat Rowland, one of Colburn's former co-workers at the MPD North Precinct. She was one of Colburn's first customers.

"I have a pair of parrots and I asked Roy to make me a cane with a parrot head," she said.

Colburn created a cane - with a parrot's green head and red eyes - that Rowland keeps near her birds.

"Oh, it's beautiful," she said. "Roy has a wonderful talent, I think."

At least one shop, Cogbill's Store & Museum in LaGrange, will begin stocking a few of Colburn's canes. He showed them to owner Lucy Cogbill during the recent history event in the small Fayette County town.

"We had walking sticks in here before and they have been of interest to our customers in the past," said Cogbill. "Each stick is different and each dictates its own character. They looked good so we'll try it and see how it goes."

Colburn said the sumac is pretty easy to find; he always asks permission of landowners to dig up the trees that he says are considered weed-like in the West Tennessee flora: "It's not useable for anything else, as far as I know."

While Colburn may not want to turn his hobby into an industry, it has offered him something creative to do with his spare time. He estimates it takes about six hours' work to make a cane. (It takes 10 weeks for the wood to dry enough to work.)

"I can't work on canes all the time, I've got to fish and I've got to hunt, too," said Colburn.

Colburn's canes run from $30 to $50 each. He can be reached at (901) 476-8839.

(iSyndicate; The Commercial Appeal; Nov. 9, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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