by Chris Harris
Most people, when they see a tree, might see a trunk, branches, limbs and leaves.
Richie Ritchie sees an undiscovered masterpiece.
“When I go to create, I put the piece in there with my mind and simply uncover it,” he said.
By “in there,” he means in the tree, or whatever piece of wood he has to work with. It’s all part of a quest to make southern Pulaski County a little bit more beautiful a place to live.
Ritchie hails from the Dixie Bend area, and is currently filling it up with sculptures made from wood. He’s made over half a dozen pieces for neighbors in just the last couple of weeks. A deer skull, a baby bear climbing a tree for a honey pot, a mother fox with its young, a macaw parrot, a birdhouse with hummingbirds and flowers. All life-size. All very detailed and carefully shaped.
Ritchie calls his business 9 Finger Art Wood Carvings and Photography, and yes, it’s called “9 Finger” for exactly the reason you might think.
“In 2008, I lost a finger while carving a walnut basket,” said Ritchie. “It was such a serious injury. I looked at it as, once you lose a limb, you’ve got two choices. You can either walk away, or go at it harder than you ever have before, and I decided to just go at it.”
As such, Ritchie calls his sculptural art his “medicine,” and said that while he does have a business, it’s “not so much a financial thing as it is a passion” for him.
Originally from Knott County in eastern Kentucky — he moved to Pulaski at age 16 — Ritchie is untrained. He doesn’t do any real pre-planning work, he just sort of sees an image in his head, and works to unleash the shape in the natural material.
“I grew up in the woods,” he said. “That was my passion for years, anything to do with nature. I’d see things in wood and stone. When I’d come home, I’d still have those things in my mind.
“I look at it backwards,” he added. “It’s easier than creating it.”
Whatever the case, Ritchie’s talents are in demand. He’s been creating pieces recently for his Dixie Bend neighbors.
“I saw this stump for a few years, and knew there was something in it,” said Ritchie. “I asked the homeowner if he’d been interested (in turning the stump into art), and he said, ‘I’d love for you to try it.’ After that job came the next one and the next one.”
Currently, he’s working on a pirate-themed work for neighbor Pam Barnett — the tree is about twice as tall as he is, and will feature elements such as the image of a buccaneer, a skull, cannonballs and an octopus. Very “Pirates of the Caribbean” — right here on Lake Cumberland.
“I take someone and spent a little time with them and find out what they like,” said Ritchie. “(Barnett) liked a pirate theme. I let the person who has the tree direct me in general.”
If there’s no tree, a hunk of wood will do. “I have people all around me give me wood,” he said. “I call it ‘firewood rescue.’”
Ritchie hopes to one day tackle a challenge that’s a little bit “harder” — literally. He wants to sculpt images from stone.
“My goal ... is to move on from wood, use that as a learning phase, and move on to create massive monuments,” he said, “things that last thousands of years.”
For now, however, he’ll concentrate on beautifying his Burnside-area neighborhood, for homeowners and passers-by alike.
“Even though I give (the art) to people,” he said, “anyone can pull up and enjoy it.”