By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
“Punk Girl” still needs some work, but artist Jody Queen knows he’s on the right track. She’s streamlined and sleek. An emerald light glows in her chest, she has a copper corset, and metal parts salvaged from pumps, downtown buildings and a saxophone form a face.
The former store mannequin is now an example of steampunk, an art and literary form blending elements of the Victorian Age and science fiction. “Punk Girl,” is now on display at Gary Bowling’s House of Art on Bland Street in Bluefield. Photo-realistic pencil drawings, and hand-carved hiking sticks Queen created are also at the gallery.
Now 48, Queen currently lives in Rocky Gap, Va. Originally from Wayne County, he came to Mercer County in 2005.
“I had a waterproofing business in Florida,” he recalled. “People who lived on the beaches, their living quarters are usually underneath an overhead deck; and in order to protect their stuff downstairs, usually artwork and stuff like that, they waterproof the ceiling.”
However, Queen also had a talent for art at an early age.
“I’ve always drawn. All my life I’ve drawn. In high school I used to draw pictures of my friends’ cars, four-wheel drive frames, mag wheels, however they wanted them made up, and they’d have a little picture of their souped up cars,” he said. “The beginning of my art career actually started when I was about 7. My grandmother, she used to have me always drawing pictures and stuff. I’ve done it all my life, but not professionally until the last seven years.”
Many artists have second jobs, but Queen is a full-time artist. The path leading him to an art career is surprising. It started when his wife, Vicki, was hurt in a fall.
“That’s how I make my living. That’s all I do. My wife had an accident about seven years ago. She used to be a climber, and she was climbing to the top of East River Mountain where the radio towers are. She was coming back, and she tripped and fell and went over the cliff, and fell about 30 feet. She was in a coma 13 days, and the doctors were telling me she would never walk again, that she would have problems talking and I would have to have to teach her how to brush her hair,” Queen said.
Fortunately, the doctor’s prognosis for Vicki’s recovery was inaccurate.
“She was in Roanoke, and when she was brought back to the rehab clinic in Princeton, as soon as we pulled her out of the ambulance, she opened her eyes and said, ‘Am I in Mercer County?’ Those were the first words she said. From then on, she just kept getting better.”
Queen needed a new way to earn a living while his wife recovered, so he turned to art.
“That’s what prompted me to do this professionally, because I had to be with her. I had to stay at home and I had to be close to her because she had a lot of cognitive functions that had to develop again. So I told her, ‘Well, I’ve got a back-up plan. It was something I could do, make some money and keep me at home.’ That’s how I started.”
The new career got on track when he met fellow artist Gary Bowling, who was working on a gallery in downtown Bluefield.
“And then I found Gary. He was just starting up. They were still working on Gary Bowling’s House of Art and I walked in there one day. That was in March 2005. We’d spend 100 hours a week there. I built walls and I built studios, built the stage and I hung artwork there. Gary and I had a studio on the third floor, and most of the artwork I’ve sold, that’s where it came from.”
Gary Bowling’s House of Art later moved to the Bluefield Arts and Crafts building on Bland Street. Queen said his artwork sells slowly at the local level, but he earns most of his money by attending art shows in Florida.
“I leave in November and come back in March or April. I’ve just heard back from Cape Canaveral, the Space Coast. I’ll be doing that show in November and Gasparilla in March, which is another big show there,” he said.
One display at the Bland Street gallery shows off Queen’s pencil drawings.
“My pencil drawing, the art form there would probably be called photo realism. It’s all about textures with detail work, to capture the texture of something. Then you can make it look real. The more real I can make it look, the more satisfied I am. I love the realism. It’s attention to detail. When I’m doing my steampunk, it’s real detailed. It’s just something that follows me around,” he said.
Creating an 11 by 14 inch pencil drawing can take between 80 to 100 hours, Queen stated. The effort, which involves using mechanical pencils and sometimes magnifying glasses for the work, helps him achieve fine detail. When he said that when he does portraits, he tries to capture every detail of the person.
“The more real it is, the more believable it is to me, the more I like it. I love detail anyway,” he said.
A love of detail goes into the steampunk work. It invokes worlds where 19th century people have access to technology of today. Captain Nemo’s submarine “Nautilus” in Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is one instance of the genre. A more recent example is the Sherlock Holmes movies starring Morton Downey Jr. Besides sculptures, Queen hopes to do steampunk illustrations.
“I’m really getting into the steampunk now. I’d like to do that a little longer and do a couple of more pieces and maybe do a show with them. That’s kind of my big thing right now,” he said. “Steampunk to me is basically Victorian science fiction because it’s things that they really shouldn’t have had back then. It feels like the Victorian Age, but it has a science fiction twist to it.”
“And of course, I’ll do some stuff that I know is going to sell on the road, like manatees and dolphins. I would like to go with my drawings and also do some political things, things I feel strongly about like mountaintop removal and the whole political arena right now,” he added.
In one corner are some hiking sticks Queen has carved. A carved stick isn’t like one that was just picked up in the woods.
“There’s a lot of difference. One of the biggest differences with my sticks is they’ve actually been field-tested. I grew up in the woods hunting ginseng and yellow root. Actually, I bought my school clothes with ginseng money when I was growing up. Ginseng, yellow root, snakeroot, mayapple,” he said. “All those herbs, my grandfather was really into them and he showed me what they were. I got to where I could go out and find them, and I would buy my school clothes.”
Queen thinks of his grandfather, Thomas Ferguson, as “probably the smartest man I’ve ever met. He was kind of a surveyor and an engineer type. Even the instruments my grandfather had. I always had a feel for them, the transits. I always liked that mechanical side of things.”
A stick made of the right wood and cut the correct length can help a hiker with things like spider webs and hard terrain. Having a spur a hiker could use to push brush aside helps, too.
“When I first started when I younger, I’d just grab a stick and go with it, but I came to find out if I was hunting ginseng and it (stick) had a spur on it, I could move the plants away because ginseng grows under spicewood bushes and other plants. They like the darkness.”
A tall stick helps knock things out of the way, too.
“I had a stick one time, just by accident, and it was tall enough to knock the spider webs out of the way,” he said. “All you had to do is hold it out in front of you. If you have a favorite stick, it’s nice to put a piece of copper on the bottom to keep it from splitting. And you can do the same on the top.” He usually leaves the very tip of the stick bare so it will grip better. The choice of wood is important, too.
“I’ve had sticks break on me. There are a few woods I like real well, hickory being one of them. Ironwood is another one, but it’s hard to find an ironwood that’s straight enough,” Queen said. “When they break, if they ever do break, they will splinter rather than break all at once. That might give you extra time to grab something, get your balance or whatever. That’s why they use hickory in tool handles. Your hammerhead’s not going to go flying across the room. The best shovels, hammers, and axes; they have hickory handles.”
Queen is one of approximately 20 artists who display their work at the house of art.