Jerry Metcalf: Chainsaw sculptor, lifetime ink lover
By Katie Modras-Anible
Jerry Metcalf shares his philosophy on life as we sit with the evening sun streaming into his kitchen window.
“Life goes by too fast not to keep busy,” he said.
His tiny black Chihuahua, Black Jack, makes his presence known and then sits close enough to get cozy during our visit. I scratch his chin while I look at the old school tattoo designs that are splashed across the walls and the portrait of Jesus on an oval slice of wood, just behind Metcalf’s right shoulder.
Born and raised in East Dayton, this former Marine has dedicated himself to his passions: tattooing and chainsaw sculpting. On any given day, one can hear gospel and old country music wafting through the air as Jerry works outside, always with several neighbors over to visit. His creations are large, brightly painted and raw wooden sculptures, which cover both yards, at various stages of development. It would be hard to miss these exciting pieces of folk art as you drive down East Third Street.
Relaxed and easy about his talent he exclaimed, “There are three things I like; doing tats, cutting wood and talking to God.”
Metcalf started tattooing over 30 years ago in Dayton. He has owned and operated two shops in the city – one on Wayne Avenue for five years and one on Shroyer Road for six – known under the name Ink City. He has left his creative mark in ink on many in the Dayton area and has loved every minute of it.
Since this chapter of his life began, he has become a local figure of sorts.
“Everybody knows me,” he explained. “I’ve been around here for a long time. I’d never move off Third Street. I love it.”
East Dayton has been my home for the past five years and it is for characters like Metcalf that I have come to love and feel at home here myself. Not a day goes by that Metcalf does not have a visitor that he has known for years or a stranger stopping in to admire and talk about his art.
“People stop often to talk, you know, to chat,” he said. “Parents stop by with kids that would like their picture taken with one of the carvings.”
Having always enjoyed whittling wood, Metcalf began experimenting with chainsaws 10 to 12 years ago. His first carving was of a bear and his biggest so far has been a 15-foot tall Sonic the Hedgehog that sits in Higginsport, Ohio.
Three men with their arms outstretched could not reach around its girth. He and his son Cody remember this carving fondly, recalling the scaffolding that had to be used for Jerry to work with his chainsaw at the top of the massive hedgehog.
We take time and discuss the tattoos that both of us have. His first tattoo was a homemade cross on his left bicep that is now covered by a newer cross with a banner for each of his parents. “Mom and Dad,” it reads. I laugh and tell him that I’m only getting started.
“You know something? Me too.” he said with an infectious grin. “I couldn’t tell you how many tats I’ve got. I stopped counting a long time ago. But if I see that special one, I’ll get it.”
Metcalf is, in a way, an outsider folk artist. Outsider art is the English spin on the French term art brut, or raw art; the term used to describe art that lies outside traditional boundaries. Predominately self-taught, these artists do not necessarily create with intentions to sell their work or to gain attention. Artwork, then, is not created to impress or to compete, it is done for the pure joy of creating.
“You know, it’s fun,” said Metcalf. He reminds me again that he doesn’t push himself, he just works as the spirit moves. It is a way of life.
After 61 years, he shares that his art is what continues to feed into his vitality.
“You know it’s going to be the end of the world tonight at six’ o’clock,” Metcalf said [our interview was conducted on May 21].
We both laugh and he reminds me that nobody knows when that will be. Live for today, for tomorrow we may die.
“It keeps me going, helps me get closer to God,” said Metcalf. “I mean, it does a lot for me. I just get the wood, think of it, and go for it. If you mess up, there’s always another piece of wood! You know, I’ve been doing it so long – I used to draw the design down on the wood first, now I don’t. Things just become easy and then it’s my own little world.”
Cruise by Jerry Metcalf’s place on East Third Street, next to Rice and Food For Less.
Reach DCP freelance writer Katie Anible-Modras at KatieAnibleModras@DaytonCityPaper.com.