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Woodcarver Matt Wilkinson

Boone County’s Tool Man

Text and photographs by Carl E. Feather

Matt Wilkinson of Ashford, Boone County, with his collection of hand-carved wooden tools
Matt Wilkinson of Ashford, Boone County, with his collection of hand-carved wooden tools. Photograph by Carl E. Feather.


Matt Wilkinson can’t identify the source of his woodcarving talent. He’s unaware of any ancestor who possessed his knack of releasing objects from a block of hardwood with a knife and some homemade tools. The closest genetic explanation he can come up with is his mother, Peg, whose drawings decorated the halls of the schools in Matt’s native Peytona, Boone County.

Matt is likewise at a loss to identify the reason he picked up his Old Timer pocketknife 20 years ago and started whittling a pipe wrench out of a block of black walnut.

“It wasn’t long after I got married,” Matt says, as we sit on the long porch of his Ashford, Boone County, home on a Friday afternoon in early July.

“He had to get away from the nagging wife,” chimes in Ann, his wife of 24 years. “That’s what he tells everybody.”

Matt elaborates to defend himself. “I’d always whittle on sticks, and for some reason — I was working for the gas company — I thought I could carve a pipe wrench. Once I got started, I thought there has to be other tools I can carve, too.”

That was around 1986, to the best of Matt’s recollection. He has since carved at least one tool a year and now has a large toolbox filled with priceless hardwood carvings of screwdrivers, pipe wrenches, Channellocks, socket wrenches, drills, bits, and dies. Matt’s tremendous talent is apparent to friends, neighbors, and co-workers, but beyond that, he’s unknown in West Virginia art and craft circles. Matt is very protective of his carvings and doesn’t allow them out of his sight for competition or exhibition.

“I’m really reluctant about that,” Matt says. “I’m scared to death it will come up missing. Even if I have them insured and they end up lost, I’m still out.”

The obscurity of Matt’s work parallels the remoteness of his residence off Boone County Road 1. Until just a few years ago, the numerous long drives that branch off the county road didn’t have names. The protests of befuddled and lost delivery drivers brought about idyllic monikers, like Honeysuckle and Dogwood lanes.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.