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Finksburg artist, 88, takes what he sees and turns it into detailed wood carvings, paintings, figures, more

Herb Close of Finksburg pictured with one of his hand-carved dioramas, depicting a longhorn cattle round up. Close has a large collection dioramas and scratch-built models of trucks and tractors.
Herb Close of Finksburg pictured with one of his hand-carved dioramas, depicting a longhorn cattle round up. Close has a large collection dioramas and scratch-built models of trucks and tractors. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

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.

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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.

Herb Close of Finksburg pictured with some of the scratch-built models of trucks he made. Close has a large collection dioramas and scratch-built models of trucks and tractors.
Herb Close of Finksburg pictured with some of the scratch-built models of trucks he made. Close has a large collection dioramas and scratch-built models of trucks and tractors. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

“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.

Herb Close of Finksburg made this painting in the 1950s. Close has a large collection dioramas and scratch-built models of trucks and tractors he made.
Herb Close of Finksburg made this painting in the 1950s. Close has a large collection dioramas and scratch-built models of trucks and tractors he made. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

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.

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“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.

“He makes every piece on them, and they are very detailed,” he said.

According to Close’s wife Mabel, her husband gets his ideas from books and television, from anything he sees and likes.

“He makes what he sees using whatever he has handy,” she said. “When he is building the tractors, he even uses cans or old nails or whatever he has around. And he really enjoys doing it.”

Talbert said Close has been coming to the annual toy show for 15 years or more.

“I just can’t believe he does that,” he said. “He does a great job. It is all so perfect. You can’t find a flaw in any of it.”

Close said he likes figuring out how to bring a piece to life using whatever he can find.

“I just like to do it because I have the chance,” he said.

His wife said her favorite is the ever-growing Western scene, created from simple blocks of wood.

“I think it is therapy for him,” she said. “He enjoys it.”

Close Jr. agreed.

“He will spend weeks and months on a project, and I am always very impressed.”

Lois Szymanski covers Finksburg, Gamber, Pleasant Valley, Reese, Sandymount, Silver Run, Smallwood, Union Mills and Westminster. Reach her at 443-293-7811 or LoisSzymanski@hotmail.com.

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