Retired Lawrence County Native Creates Prize-winning Sculptures
Written by Bette Moore about 1987 for the Daily Record
Charles Emmons is a Lawrence County native accomplishing great things in the world of sculpture. Now living in Vernon Hills with his wife Helen, Emmons made a living, piecing together prototypes for business machines before retiring. In the early 1970s, he utilized techniques involved with business machine modeling and flung them a bit farther afield. “I just started pushing things around in one way or the other,” he said. “It became a habit this practice of arranging plastic and wood and metal into different sizes and shapes.”
Last summer, Emmons’ sculpture, KR – 2, meandered past about 5000 pieces of work at County and Regional competitions to become a blue ribbon winner at a state - wide arts contest sponsored by the University of Illinois Agriculture Extension Service. KR – 2 was carved from a piece of cypress and is named for an elementary school teacher friend who has twice donated sculptural materials to Emmons. The piece of cypress, smoothed to a splinter-less elongation, once ‘squat as a stump,’ Emmons explained. It took between 100 and 400 hours of scraping, chiseling and sanding to put the wood in its award-winning form.
Emmons’ entry into competitive sculpting had inauspicious beginnings. “I began as a spectator,” said Emmons who would give his age only by saying he is nearing the end of his life. When a competition judge mentioned more entries would be desirable, Emmons went home and started to work. He returned the next year with four entries of his own. Without the initial encouragement the ribbons provided, “I probably wouldn’t have entered anymore,” Emmons said. Emmons sculptures have taken a merit of ribbons, during the nearly 15 years since his first work was displayed.
“Very seldom do the materials themselves suggest a finished product,” Emmons said. “You look at the material you’re working with and you go with it. Of course the poor wood has to submit.” Although Emmons did several pieces in 1987, only KR – 2 went into ‘downstate’ competition.
“Things that affect your life, you like to translate into whatever medium you have,” Emmons said. For instance, after more than 25 years of singing lessons, Emmons took part of a walnut tree and carved a treble clef from it. The curving clef rocks and acts as a metronome when set atop a piano. Woven into the treble clef, Emmons has chiseled out a bass cleft.
“The thing that makes sculpture so special to me is that it never remains the same,” he aid. Every person who looks at his work will see something different. “If you look, you can find good in everything,” Emmons said. There is even the potential for beauty in dead and decaying trees, he indicated.
“If a tree dies, you let it sit for two years. It’ll decompose and make patterns,” he said. “But getting to the wood at the right moment, when the patterns left by decay are at their most intriguing stage is difficult. It gets to be a guessing game. You have to get the patterns before deterioration rots the whole thing away,” he explained.
The patterns caught in a rotting piece of walnut left a three-legged triangular shape that Emmons says is among his favorite pieces. From a honey locust tree that had seen better days, Emmons sanded a miniature baseball bat. It stands about a foot tall and sits on a small ball field of green tile. And on the end of the once – locust tree, Emmons has molded a golden baseball.
Emmons sculptures fill an armoire in the family’s living room, but sculpting fills only about one – third of his wakening hours as a ‘winter time’ activity. Gardening provides many hours of activity in the warmer months. The philosophical lessons that can be learned from plant life seem to intrigue Emmons more than the plants themselves.
He said, “Helen brought in a plethora of long stem roses last week, but it wasn’t until they withered and died that the smell of roses began to fill the house. Now maybe that goes to show that we don’t let go any pure essence or personality until we’ve been battered around a bit,” he concluded.