Matthew Howell


Thank the lackadaisical pace of fishing for helping to give birth to the artwork that earned best of show honors at 2019’s Fine Arts Fiesta.

Wilkes-Barre resident Matthew Howell picked up wood carving after whittling a figure of a man’s head during a fishing trip.

Another fisherman liked it. He bought the piece from Howell, who kept up his new hobby.

In 2018 the fiesta jury chose several of his pieces for the first time, and in 2019 his piece, “Tramp Art Bird Box” took top honors.

“I never imagined it,” he said. “I was happy last year just to get something accepted. It’s hard to get accepted in here, let alone get a couple pieces, so I’m really, really thrilled.”

The winning artwork is a combination of tramp art — a style named for the hobos who sometimes practiced it in the 20th century — and German folk art. Whimsical birds perch on a multi-layered box stamped with geometric patterns, leaves and berry.

His work is made of old wood from houses around Luzerne County. Howell’s brother-in-law owns Schappert Construction, so when they get a remodeling job, he asks for the wood that’s taken out.

It’s a good deal for Howell because buying a piece of kiln-dried wood large enough to make some of his pieces could cost close to $100, and this method is a way of recycling wood that might be headed for a dumpster or fire without him.

Plus, it’s imbued with good karma. Think of the decades of people who broke bread over that wood.

“That still lives on,” he said.

Flanking the box in 2019’s show were two of Howell’s carvings that show his interest in mythology. One was an elf and the other the son of the Norse god Thor. They both held small wooden swords.

Howell has worked as a plumber, but he’s now unable to work much because he waiting for a surgery on his leg. Woodworking has become a fulfilling hobby. His Facebook page “Bad Buddy Carvings” shows more of his work.

“I think this is beautiful for everybody. Anybody that does art is a winner. If they don’t like it, just keep making more,” he said. “There’s nothing like creating something out of your own mind.”