Editor’s note: This story by Kristofer Noceda appeared June 5, 2009 in The Daily Review.It reports on retirement activities of Joel Ellioff, a long-time business representative for Local 1245.
Reminders of some of Joel Ellioff’s most interesting experiences can be found on his collection of walking sticks.
Ellioff, 66, spends endless hours carving stories and random designs into the sticks. His work has been displayed in various area exhibits, with some of his recent pieces featured last month at the Kenneth C. Aitken Senior and Community Center’s Art Gala. “It’s kind of a thing you can just pick up and do at any given moment,” he said. Ellioff, a Castro Valley resident, first came across carved walking sticks in 2003 during a trip to South Carolina. When he returned home, he had a case of insomnia. “I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about the sticks,” he said. “So I got out of bed and started carving at 3 a.m.”
Before that moment, he had never taken woodcarving seriously. Six years later, he now has 35 carved sticks in his collection, spending about 100 hours or so on each piece. “He enjoys it and it’s his form of relaxation,” said his wife, Wendy Ellioff, 63. “Joel has always been very artistic, and the woodcarving is a natural way for him to express himself.”
Ellioff’s favorite piece is one he made based on a trip to Italy and Vatican City. At the top of the stick is a carving of the Vatican. Other carvings of memories from his trip include a church where his friend serves as a priest. “Designs are made to tell a story on each stick,” he said. And for that simple reason, he says, he can never sell off his work despite many requests from art enthusiasts and admirers. “It’s all about my personal growth, and I don’t want it to be compromised by other people’s ideas,” Ellioff said. “This is something that’s sacred to me.”
He plans to enter some of his carvings in this summer’s Alameda County Fair. When Ellioff isn’t working on a carving, he’s volunteering his time at both the Aitken center and the Hayward Senior Center. Earlier this week, Ellioff spent time in the senior center’s wood shop, where he imparted his
self-taught expertise on carved walking sticks to about eight seniors.
“Joel never gets to finish his things because he’s always busy helping other people, including me,” said Tom Evans, who has worked with Ellioff in the wood shop class for many years. “He’s a nice guy, and the woodcarving gives us something to do and get out of the house.”