Living Ind

The Late Renaissance Lloyd Guillory is amazing. Let’s get that out of the way now.

by Walter Pierce

He didn’t take up wood carving until his early 40s. That was 50 years ago.

Now 92, sharp as a chisel and amazingly mobile — he uses email, totes around an iPad and even has a website ( ferkrisake!) — the retired architect and former World War II fighter pilot might have carved his last a few months ago. Arthritis doesn’t mess around, but for much of the 2000s, the St. Mary Parish native was prolific.

“I went on a carving orgy in 2004 for reasons I can’t explain,” he says. “I did several including ‘The Last Supper.’” Wrought from Honduran mahogany, the bas-relief carving is an uncannily faithful reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting. It’s one of scores of wood carvings Guillory has produced since he retired from his Morgan City architecture practice in 1987 at the tender age of 75.

A resident of Lafayette since 2000, he would often begin a piece with a chainsaw to quickly remove wood, forming the sculpture with a chisel before grabbing his trusty hand-held Dremel rotary tool to tickle out the details.

“I’d carve eight hours a day — I would carve through lunch — Saturday and Sunday included,” he recalls of those years in the mid-2000s when he poured himself into his craft. Guillory built model boats since childhood and is an accomplished author and illustrator whose pen-and-ink drawings of Louisiana plantation homes are as finely rendered as any. But the wood carving held a particular lure he still can’t explain.

“I’d get hung up on a carving, and I’d just go crazy,” the self-taught artisan says. He put about 200 hours into “The Last Supper.” Guillory has no ready explanation for his longevity and mental acuity at 92 — I was hoping he’d say three cocktails and half a pack of cigarettes per day — but he does share the secret to his wood-carving success: “You have to have the motivation,” he says emphatically. “If you’re not motivated you’re not going to do well in any art.”

View a gallery of his carvings here.