WOODEN CANES & STAFFS With family roots on a small farm which straddles the line between Natchitoches and Sabine Parishes near Marthaville, LA, Bill Ellzey has been collecting and fashioning wooden canes and staffs most of his adult life. Many of those he has displayed and sold at crafts fairs over some 30 years were harvested from the woods on that farm or other family property nearby.
"I find saplings and limbs with interesting shapes, twists, knots, roots, bark or branches, then cut, trim and in come cases peel them before storing them indoors to cure." Almost any tree variety can be turned into a cane.
The stock of raw canes build up until he finds the time to cut or grind away unwanted features. He then smooths and varnishes what remains for marketing.
Since he now lives in Houma, some 250 miles from the family farm, expeditions to find raw canes there are occasional, usually coinciding with visits to Natchitochess and Sabine Parish relatives. Other sources of raw materials include trimmings from trees in his own yard in Houma, or those of friends and neighbors, or from specimens found during vacation trips.
Most of the vegetation from which he coaxes walking sticks would be considered worthless trash by anyone without an "eye" for the features to look for.
Ellzey insists that he does not "carve" canes and staffs. "I find them and remove branches, leaves, knots or bark to accentuate the existing features that make them interesting or useful." The spiral twists are the product of the competition between a sapling and a native vine, both trying to grow toward a promising patch of sunlight. Handles often result from the lucky natural placement of branches or roots. Some promising cane shafts with no root or limb to serve as a natural handle can be fitted with a substitute handle fashioned from another limb, harvested separately.
The final surface is achieved by sanding, then varnishing the item, often with several repetitions until suitably smooth and shiny.
Generations of rural Louisianans have found their own special canes in essentially the same fashion, either out of necessity for aid in walking; or as security from bothersome dogs or other critters; or just because some feature in the wood itself caught the eye.