A soft-spoken gentleman exhibits a surprising hidden talent – taking pieces of wood, and turning them into beautiful canes and walking sticks with intricate designs.
Philip Owen made his first walking stick as a young boy of seven or eight years old in Rawlinsville, PA. Illness dominated his childhood, and Philip will admit, “I was spoiled rotten.” Often when walking to check on the cows, he would pick up a stick and begin carving it.
As a youngster, Philip had tuberculosis and was in a sanitarium for eleven months one time, and twenty-two months the next. During that last visit in 1946, Philip said he was “a streptomycin guinea pig”. They administered one hundred forty-four shots of streptomycin to Philip and one other young man. Both were cured. With this new discovery, it wasn’t long before the sanitarium was closed.
During his lifetime he has made, given away, traded or sold many walking sticks and canes. At this time, he is working on numbers 1105 and 1106 out of American chestnut, a rare wood with a beautiful grain. These creations have been shipped all over the world.
Many kinds of wood make up these walking sticks and canes. One of his favorite designs was free-lanced on PA rosebud. Since the canes and sticks must be strong as well as beautiful, he favors using maple, walnut and cherry wood. It might surprise you to learn that the structure of the sticks depends on whether an individual prefers using their right or left hand.
One thing of which he should be extremely proud is the fact that he has carved canes for five US Presidents – from Richard Nixon to George Bush. Even more interesting, he has received thank-you notes from all of them including their signatures. Philip hopes that his grandson will someday appreciate having those special treasures.
In 1988, Philip Owen’s nephew, Mike Huber, had a 40th birthday. Philip made a cane for him as a joke since Mike was now “going down hill”. Along with the birthday greetings, Philip said, “You are hereby appointed President of ANCC.” Those letters stood for American National Cane Collectors, which was later changed to the American National Cane Club to include makers, not just collectors. Philip volunteered to be the Secretary/Treasurer so they had two members. This organization’s newsletter became known as “The Twisted Stick.”
Two years ago, Philip carved a right-handed walking stick for this gypsy. He included some of my favorite things on the stick – bears. Many knots were cleverly turned into bear heads. On each stick, Philip puts his signature – a heart containing his initials and a cross in the center with John 3:16 under the heart. Above the heart is the number of the cane.
My walking stick almost always stays in the trunk of my car to be used when walking over rough territory, or even in the snow. Gypsy Bev is written around the top so it’s not bound to get mixed up with someone else’s.
Family is very important to Philip, as he grew up in a loving family of twelve children. He was number eleven, his twin brother number twelve. His love of another hobby, quilting, began with his parents. His father cut out the squares for each of the twelve children to have “Grandmother’s Flower Garden”, then his mother sewed them together. Families are like quilts – pieced together and stitched with love.
Quilts he has made include a novel “necktie quilt”. The idea came when a friend gave him a large pile of neckties. It seems Philip likes free things, in fact his wife often said, “Don’t offer Philip anything free, or he’ll take it.” And it appears he puts these things to creative use.
Right now he’s in the process of making a quilt called “Around the World” for a missionary in their church. He has 800 pieces laid out for the quilt. The center is red for the blood shed by Jesus, surrounded by white to signify salvation, and then a row of heavenly blue. The rest is alternate rows of print and solid colors. Even he admits, “I sometimes get carried away.”
On the wall of his apartment, he proudly displays a picture of his grandfather. On each side are framed pieces of a quilt given to his grandfather by his church congregation. Philip’s sister took it apart as it was beginning to fray and framed a piece of it for each of the twelve children.
Today Philip lives in Cambridge, Ohio where he keeps busy giving free lessons to those interested in making canes, walking sticks, baskets or wall plaques. He also teaches a special class on how to write you Life Story. Since he is a retired minister, he enjoys conducting Bible study at the Senior Center. When you consider that Philip is 88 years old, you can see why he feels blessed and wants to share his knowledge with others.
Philip and his wife, Gene, had three children, who have followed in his footsteps. Joel and Philip are pastors, while daughter Barbara has served several years as a missionary. A grandson is following that path also, making four generations of pastors in their family. In Philip’s words, “The most important thing in life is to know God’s will…and do it.”
When asked if he wished he could have done anything else in life, Philip responded, “If I were able, I’d have a garbage collection business.” He sees so many things thrown away that could possibly be recycled into something new. His creative mind never sleeps.