Person of the Week

Bill Kuzman

Painter and Wood Carver

I have some funny stories about being a wood carver.  Where do I start?  I started by making a whole chess set out of soap.   This guy Bill Olson in Duxbury, Massachusetts, was a painter and he got me painting.  I looked up to him.  He tried to explain the good things in life. He told me I could go this way or that way.  I took his footsteps.

1.  What led you to the mission of being a painter and wood carver?

My mother died of Lou Gehrig’s disease when she was young.  She got put in a home.  (This girl where I’m working, I gave a rose to her because she reminds me of my mother.)  I got put in an orphanage home and eventually somebody in Duxbury, Massachusetts took me as a foster child.  This first family had an older foster son who ran away with the foster mother, so I had to be put back in the orphanage home.  I ran away from the orphanage and went back to the family and all the kids took care of me in the woods for a whole year.  They would bring me food from their mother’s freezer.  They’d bring steaks and I’d cook them in the woods.  I was about fifteen or sixteen.

Another family heard about me and they took care of me.  So I could come out of the woods.  But I missed a lot of school through all of this stuff.  They tried to keep me in school and painting.  I eventually dropped out of school and took a painting job.  I basically lived on the streets.

This guy Bill Olson in Duxbury, Massachusetts, was a painter and he got me painting.  I looked up to him.  He tried to explain the good things in life. He told me I could go this way or that way.  I did remember and kept the things that Bill Olson was saying about work and painting.  He got me started painting and even though I took the off road for a while, I always kept that little chip of what he told me and I became him.  I took his footsteps.  I became a contractor at a young age.  That’s it!  You know — the regular story that nobody will listen to until you find out for yourself.  If I could give anything to children, it would be for them to go ahead and listen to that.  I know they might not, but the ones that can, listen to it and fly right.  Life is too short.

People liked me and gave me chances.  I painted a mansion and took care of a place for eight years.  Seven months out of the year I could stay in this resort mansion type and take care of the place.  I’m very trustworthy.   I watched how other people were into stealing from each other and I just couldn’t live that kind of life. There are all these good people in the world doing good things.  It does get through.  That’s what made me go this way.  So I say, “Don’t give up.  Keep doing what you are doing.”

I have some funny stories about being a wood carver.  Where do I start?  I started by making a whole chess set out of soap.  That was probably the first time I noticed I had skills.  Then I started making little rowboats and little swans.  I’m working on a swan at the house right now.  That’s probably where I started.  I’ve always had that in me, I guess.  I can’t draw for nothing, but I can do three-dimensional things.  It’s weird and kind of strange.  Here is a turtle I carved.

2.  What does this mission mean to you?

Just pride.  I’m just proud of what I do – all the houses.  I can go through Duxbury and point out almost every other house going down the road that I worked on.  I’ve been in Ellsworth for twenty-seven years and I’ve painted the Ellsworth Library, the newspaper place storefront, and a good dozen Victorian homes.  I’m pretty happy.  I love my painting.  I get a kick out of memories and life – like driving to work today reminds me of being eighteen and driving down the cape and seeing all the jobs I’ve done.  (Pictured is a carved bowl with turtles around the top.  Click the picture to enlarge the view.)

3.  What was your best day as a painter and wood carver?

Pay day!  It’s like fishing – getting large contracts and I can take my time and do the jobs right.  I don’t have to start trying to rush, rush, rush, rush and skimp on them.  It’s nice when you can get somebody who says, “Just come right in and do the best job you can do.”  I like that.

4.  What was your worst day as a painter and wood carver?

When I dump out or knock over paint.  I’ve done that before, a few times in my lifetime.  Christmas morning.  Painting in Duxbury Library.  I was doing the foyer and I had a gallon of paint.  I was younger and on an eight foot stepladder.  All of a sudden the whole gallon went right down on the floor.  Drop cloths don’t hold it.   (Pictured is a carved  bowl with a snake and a bird head to head.  Click the picture to enlarge the view.)

You’ve got to know how to pick up your messes – fast, quick, when things happen.  I’ve learned how to deal with it.  I took a wide knife and scooped up that paint.  It was a marble floor, so I just got down and scooped it up and put it back in the thing with the wide knife.  I got it clean, but I just wondered if those cameras were watching – being in such a public place, like that.  I thought they might say, “Hey look at that painter!”  

Those are the worst times when things like that happen.  Painting on roofs – sliding off or falling off roofs.  I was sliding down the side of one house down in Cape Cod one day.  I was up two or three stories.  It was very foggy that morning and I put the ladder up.  I got up to the top and it started sliding right down.  You know the ladder was on the sand and started to give way.  I went right down the wall.  Things like that happen.

5.  How did you survive your worst day?

My wife picks me up a lot.  My wife and I have been married twenty-seven years.  She tells me that it’s not as bad as I say and, “Just take it easy, and don’t worry about it.”  At night she tells me to put things under my pillow.  If I can’t sleep she will say, “Stop thinking, put it under the pillow.”  I listen to that.  When I met my wife twenty-seven years ago.  That really made life so special.  I quit drinking and gave up cigarettes.  (Pictured is a large carved turtle.  Click the picture to enlarge the view.)

I get on myself pretty heavy when I do things wrong.  That’s why I try to do them right.  All you can do is let time go by.  Time seems to erase things.  And also, a mistake is a learning thing.  Just twist that right around.  Every mistake you make, makes you more conscious the next time.  A mistake is eventually a good thing.  You can look at it that way.  You learn when you make mistakes.

I would say if someone wanted to be a painter, just to be careful.  It’s never fun to be the boss.  You’re always being the bad person – because you have to be disciplined to people that work for you.  That’s why I work by myself now.  I’ve had to learn that it’s much easier some times to work alone.  You have to be conscious and aware and try to think of the people you are working for and think how they feel.  You must try to be thoughtful and considerate – like not throwing your cigarette butts out or leaving a mess.  Just always try to think ahead.  Keep a good business and you will succeed.   (Pictured is walking stick with an octopus carved in the middle.  Click the picture to enlarge the view.)