CHARACTERS | Recalling Stick Artist-Poet-Philosopher-Shaman Boyd Carr

“Characters” is a series profiling people with a West Virginia connection—living & dead & not necessarily natives—worth knowing more about. We define ‘character’ as being one and having some.

By KIRK JUDD | For | July 26, 2020

“ storyteller,” by Boyd Carr.

I have the stick. Not a stick. Not just any stick. I have THE stick. The stick artist/poet/philosopher/shaman Boyd Carr carved that holds one of the keys to his mega-masterwork “MY.TH.” He also called it, “The Stickman Story.” Boyd and I were friends for 40 years. He once flattered me by referring to me as “a contemporary.” (He also once referred to me as his seeing-eye dog, but that is another story). I was privileged to spend many hours with him on the road as we traveled back and forth from his home in Bedford, VA, to the annual West Virginia Writers conferences at Cedar Lakes near Ripley, WV.

The stick carved by artist/poet/philosopher/shaman Boyd Carr, part of the key to his opus “MY.TH.”

Those many five-hour chunks of road trip conversation were priceless. Boyd may not have thought of himself as my teacher, but I certainly was his pupil. I learned the story of his life, of how an artist lives, and much, much more.

Boyd was one of the few true geniuses I have known. He was brilliant in his use of language and in the art of storytelling. His visual art, in many media, is unique and powerful in its impact. His wit and intellect were evident and compelling.

He believed an artist had a responsibility to their culture. If they found themselves trying to create art, they should “hang out their shingle,” forsake everything else, and share their artistic vision.

“Joe McCabe” by Boyd Carr

Though obviously in a class of his own, he was so at ease with himself and others that he charmed everyone he met. And his philosophy? Well, there never has been anything like it. He broke ground. It wasn’t easy to do, it isn’t easy to understand, and it is even harder to explain. But oh, brother is it fun!

I’ve included what I wrote (below) to introduce Boyd at a planned reception and showing of some of his card-stock print sketches, originally scheduled for April 29, 2020, at the West Virginia University Library. But of course, the pandemic quashed that, and Boyd died on June 18, 2020. Hopefully, the show will go on in some fashion. But to describe Boyd in a single paragraph or page is impossible. It will take a volume. Or two.

From a June 19, 1983 Huntington Herald-Dispatch profile of poet Allen Ginsberg by Douglas Imbrogno, after Ginbserg was featured at the West Virginia Writers Inc., conference at Cedar Lakes, in Ripley, WV | Story to come about his visit in a future issue. Subscribe for notice:

One thing I will say is that Boyd was completely committed to his art. (His art, as he thought of it, included everything he touched, created, or thought.) He believed an artist had a responsibility to their culture. If they found themselves trying to create art, they should “hang out their shingle,” forsake everything else, and share their artistic vision.

That, Boyd did.

He taught a lot of us along the way. Not only about art, or mythology, or time, or philosophy, or science, but also about how to understand and appreciate living in terms of this universe. As I said in the last line of “Are You Listening?” a poem I wrote in 1991 dedicated to Boyd:

My shingle is out now
because I’m afraid I understand
and you
had everything to do with that.

Boyd Carr

Boyd Carr Gallery

Breaking the Code

Below is an introduction by Kirk Judd for a scheduled April 29, 2020, West Virginia University Library opening of Boyd Carr’s work, canceled because of the pandemic.

A. James Manchin, then Secretary of State of West Virginia, upon meeting Boyd Carr for the first time, designated him as the ‘West Virginia Ambassador of Art Among All People.’ And that he was.

Boyd, though legally blind, still produced art, poetry, and philosophy of a high order up until his death at age 88 in Bedford, Virginia, near his hometown of Roanoke. There was no one like him.

Boyd started his journey to art early, despite a difficult childhood. After some turbulent years in public and private schools, he found himself attending Roanoke College, running track and playing football. He showed promise in both sports, and soon found himself at the University of Virginia, on the track team and majoring in Aeronautical Engineering, of all things.

At UVA, Boyd started his “cartooning” career, as he likes to say. He submitted five theses in his AE program before they finally accepted one and graduated him after (he says) making him promise never to design an airplane. All those theses were created and submitted as cartoons, or what we now might call “graphic comics.”

After a stint in the Air Force, a failed marriage, and an abrupt end to his career in the family optics business, Boyd found himself at loose ends. His new wife Gloria, secretary to the Bishop of the Episcopalian Diocese of West Virginia, told him he should try art full time. He did.

His brilliant pen and ink drawings and pithy humorous captions won him a place as staff artist for the Ripley Arts and Crafts Fair of WV, The West Virginia Hillbilly, Appalachian Journal, the West Virginia Art News, the Episcopal Diocese of WV, and West Virginia Writers, Inc.

Stick Man Story Lineup, Boyd Carr

During this time, he renewed his lifelong interest in serious art, and over the years created an abundance of work in many styles, including wood carvings and wire and cardboard sculpture.

Beginning in the late 1970s and through the 1980’s and 90’s, Boyd traveled the states of Virginia and West Virginia, sketching whatever caught his fancy, including many structures and places now vanished from the landscape.

Through all of this, Boyd worked for 40 years on what he called “MY.TH” (my thesis), which attempts to describe how a myth could be created and defined by graphic objects in a literate culture.

Heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell, this masterwork morphed into a full-blown description of how the myths of ancient cultures were developed as life-instructions for a population without a written language, to guide them to an understanding of time and existence on this planet.

Boyd maintained that his work had “broken the code” of the Christian church, and brought in elements of science, mathematics, and other disciplines, religions, and philosophies.

Brilliant, amazing, wise, talented, remarkable, and many, many other like adjectives all have been used to describe Boyd Carr.

They all are correct.


In accordance with his wishes, Boyd Carr’s substantial collection of art and literature will be gifted to WVWriters, Inc.  A memorial service will be held at a later date. Family and friends are encouraged to share about Boyd and celebrate his life on the following link to the WVWriters facebook page:

Kirk Judd has lived, worked, trout fished and wandered around in West Virginia all of his life. He was a member of the Appalachian Literary League, a founding member and former president (and JUG recipient) of West Virginia Writers, Inc. , and is a founding member of and creative writing instructor for Allegheny Echoes, Inc., dedicated to the support and preservation of WV cultural heritage arts. Author of 3 collections of poetry, “Field of Vision” 1986, “Tao-Billy” 1996, and “My People Was Music” 2014, and a co-editor of the widely acclaimed anthology, “Wild, Sweet Notes—50 Years of West Virginia Poetry 1950—1999”, he is widely published. Kirk was honored to be one of the 5 readers selected for the installation ceremony of Louise McNeill Pease as Poet Laureate in 1979 at the WV Cultural Center on the Capitol grounds in Charleston, WV. He currently sits on the board of the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation headquartered in Hillsboro, WV. He is internationally known for his performance work combining poetry and old time music, and has performed poetry in Ireland and across West Virginia at fairs, concerts, and festivals for the past 35 years.

Kirk Judd and Boyd Carr, West Virginia Writers Conference, Ripley, WV.


CHARACTERS: A Rebel of the Decidedly Non-Confederate Sort: She hated several things, one of which she called“narrowmindedness,” a catchall term for her that included racism, religious bigotry, homophobia, science-denying, disapproval of card playing, abstinence from wine and other offenses against humanity.

CHARACTERS | The One-Armed Bandit of No. 1 Holler, West Virginia: The life story of the “The One-Armed Bandit” is the stuff of heroes and legends. You may not know Gary Mays’ tale, though, as the major league career the West Virginia native might have had may have been blocked by racism. But nothing ever kept Gary Mays down for long.

DON WEST | Part 2: “May It Be So”: Long before it became fashionable, Don West fought the passive hillbilly stereotype by pointing to mountain labor’s traditions of struggle and solidarity.

FREE SUBSCRIBE to WestVirginiaVille’s e-mail newsletter:


  • John Edward Harris

    It has taken me two years to stumble across Kirk’s recollection of Boyd, a testament to both Boyd’s impact and Kirk’s literary talent. I feel blessed to have become acquainted with Boyd as we both attended the Annual West Virginia Writers Conference a few times. I will forever cherish the stick portrait he drew of me at my first conference, his books of poetry, and the brief but deeply philosophical, metaphysical, and theology conversations we engaged in.

  • admin

    Boyd was definitely a genuine character. PS: Given your tenure at the Hillbilly office and in Jim Comstock’s local vicinity, you likely have some tales to tell. Didn’t Comstock once put ramp juice in one issue of the newspaper’s ink, teeing off the post office and getting fined or something?

  • Peter Wallace

    Thank you for this! I remember Boyd visiting Jim Comstock at the West Virginia Hillbilly office a few times when I was Jim’s junior editor, 1976-79. Boyd was fascinating. I still have a book of his poetry he gave me.

Leave a Reply