For decades, Finksburg resident Herb Close was known for his sign-making. His lettering could be found on just about every Carroll County firetruck. But this 88-year-old artist is about more than signs.
Close has been creating all sorts of artwork his entire adult life. He started drawing when he was a child. As a young man, he attended the Baltimore Institute of Art, and later took art correspondence courses.
About 30 years ago, he started to whittle, carving cowboys and horses, cattle, and people. He built an 1800s horse-drawn prisoner wagon that included seven hand-carved figures riding inside.
“I just saw it on TV and then sketched it,” he said of the prisoner wagon first seen on the television show “Rawhide.”
“The cows and horses are my favorites,” he said quietly. “I always watched cowboys on TV. I liked cowboys and stuff like that.”
Close’s son, Herb Close Jr., said his father applies art to everything he does, from paintings to masonry, to carpentry and wood carving.
“He once made a giant penguin about five feet tall with wood,” he said. “He glued together chunks of wood and then chainsawed it and carved it into a penguin. He can see something, sketch it out, and then carve or paint it, making it exact, right down to the last detail.”
Close Jr. is clearly proud of his dad. In contrast, his father is a man of few words.
“I was born and raised on a farm,” Close said. “Those are the kind of things that catch my eye. I look in books or see something on television that I might want to do. I’ve been painting for most of my life. The first thing I built was a tractor of metal, and the first thing I carved was cattle and horses.”
Close Jr. said he was 4 years old when his dad took him along to an art show in Baltimore.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that is pretty awesome,’ ” he said. “I am 61 [years old] now, and since I was a little kid, I’ve seen how he painted and did artwork. God gave him that skill to see something and draw it. He has an eye for that. He draws cartoons, still life, wilderness paintings, fish and deer and landscapes, and he even did portraits for people. These were significant business owners, back when I was a kid. All my life I have seen him do a lot of fantastic artwork.”
Close recalled many paintings over the decades.
“I sold a lot of pictures,” he said. But his artwork encompasses so much more than a paintbrush can produce.
Close Jr. recalled his family building an addition on their Finksburg home in the 1960s.
“They dug out some huge boulders, flint and quartz,” he said. My dad broke it up with a sledgehammer and made them into a pier and a light post by the front of our driveway with a planter. The light post comes up through the planter. He also has a big planter by the back shop that he made from field stone and stone we got from a quarry in Butler. He’s done stone arches on our back porch, too. He applies his art talent to his masonry work, to his carpentry, to everything he does.”
According to his son, Close passed that love of art on to both of his children.
“Art was my first real hobby and interest and when I was a kid,” Close Jr. said. “I wanted to be an artist and I would have stayed with art, but then I really got into science. My sister [Sherry] stuck with it much longer. We both used to draw and paint. My dad gave oil painting lessons weekly to my aunt, and we would come along. I did butterfly and moth drawings for entomology when I was in 4-H. My sister was much better. She did charcoal and pencil drawings of wildlife that looked like it was straight out of art school.”
At the recent Farm Toy Show at the Carroll County Agriculture Center, organizer Tim Talbert spoke of Close’s work.
“He has been coming for quite a few years and he does fantastic work,” Talbert said. “Every prisoner inside that prisoner wagon is hand carved. He carved all those horses and the cattle. And he hand-built all those tractors from scratch.”
Talbert pointed to a line of steam engines and antique tractor models.