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Texas Craftsmen to Reverse Trade Tradition at Pawhuska Museum


By Fred Tarpley

Osage County, Oklahoma – A thousand years ago native American traders from the Spiro mounds in northeastern Oklahoma were making their way along water routes to Northeast Texas on Red River to barter bison products and Mississippian culture goods for valuable bois d'arc wood. Thirty-pound bundles of bois d'arc staves would be brought back to Oklahoma for craftsmen to transform into some of the best Indian bows ever known. On Saturday, Aug. 13, that tradition will be reversed when Texas artisans bring decorative and practical bois d'arc objects to the Osage County Historical Society Museum for bartering from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Jerry Lytle of Commerce is acquiring a widespread reputation for his natural bois d'arc sculptures. Whenever he spies a portion of the tree with unusual contours, he removes it and begins to explore interesting spots with hand tools. He almost always chisels away the bark, exposing the blond sapwood. Then he removes part of the sapwood to reveal the heartwood, the densest and hardest wood in North America. His results are ideal decorative objects for professional offices and homes. Lytle's sculptures weigh from five pounds to seventy-five pounds and are valued at from $40 upward.

Lytle also crafts a variety of walking canes and walking sticks, most of them priced at $20. His paper weights hold paper firmly in place and allow owners to count the annual growth rings. His "forever sticks" first fashioned for his grandchildren come with a tag explaining the significance of the wood eternal, which, Lytle explains, will last as long as his love for them. All of the items have certification labels that the wood came from a tree growing in the Bois d'Arc Kingdom, the only area on earth where bois d'arc grows in its native habitat. The tree is also known as Osage orange, hedge apple, and a score of other names.

Jim Conrad, easily recognized because he will be dressed in a bois d'arc tree suit, will be demonstrating how he makes dyes, paper, and horse apple flowers from parts of the tree. Examples of his crafts will be available for trade or purchase.

Fred Tarpley will be bartering for his comprehensive book entitled Wood Eternal: The Story of Bois d'Arc, Osage Orange, etc. and released in fall 2010 at $10 per copy including sales tax. He will also have $2 and $3 bags of Bois d'Arc Magic Mulch, a mixture of two types of
sawdust that will repel unwanted insects and varmints, as well as attract good fortune. For artisans he will have an assortment of freshly cut, bright orange bois d'arc wood that can easily be crafted into picture frames, dominoes, and other objects. He will be displaying a personalized set of bois d'arc dominoes in a bois d'arc box with the owner's name burned into each domino by a laser artist. Although Tarpley will have no dominoes for sale, he will have the card of a Texas artisan friend who can fill orders.

Tarpley will also be trading bois d'arc seed and eighteen-month-old saplings. He produced and narrated a thirty-minute video on the bois d'arc tree, which he presents its history, its anatomy, its famous historic friends, and interviews with bois d'arc craftsmen. The video is valued at $5.

The educational event will emphasize the role of bois d'arc in the development of the region, the amazing products provided by the tree, and the lore to be discovered. It also reestablishes friendly trade between natives living north and south of the Red River. Additional information about the day's events is available from the Osage County Historical Society Museum in Pawhuska or from Fred Tarpley at 903-886-6498.