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James Yule


Newspaper, Profile of James Yule, LaSalle Parish La.

From the Jena Times - Olla Tullos Signal
Wednesday, July 21, 1999, Section B, Page 9

A Times-Signal Feature..."Citizen Profile" A Very Special Salute

The "Call of the Wood" for Nebo resident yields rewards 

(Editor's Note: James Yule of Nebo was featured in the cover story of the second quarter edition of "Forests & People" magazine. Yule has carved and donated a duck call which will be auctioned off at the first annual Wild Turkey Federation banquet in Jena this Thursday night. This week's Citizen Profiler is James Yule. The story which appeared in "Forests & People" was written by Melanie Torbett, a freelance writer living in Alexandria, and appears below with permission of the official publication of the Louisiana Forestry Association.) 

James Yule listens to wood.

The grain, the color, the imperfections in an individual piece of wood speak loud and clear to this master game call craftsman, telling him to carve a flying duck here, a profile of a bird dog there. And Yule, wise man that he is, heeds the call, allowing it to guide his knife to create a work of art and function.

Yes, James Yule listens to wood, and afterwards, the ducks, turkeys and geese listen and respond to Yule's creations.

Yule's keen ear and skilled hands have led to a string of first place awards in annual National Wild Turkey  Federation game call competitions, articles in newspapers, magazines and books, television interviews and a waiting list of discerning hunters and collectors eager to acquire his unique calls.

Born and reared along the shores of central Louisiana's waterfowl-rich Catahoula Lake, where he has now resettled. Yule has had a lifelong love for wood-working. "I've been so fascinated with wood all my life," he said.

Though his highly regarded game calls have brought him great notice, they represent only one section of his lengthy resume. He has produced fine sculpture, constructed everything from log homes to an orphanage and a church in Canada, carved wooden friezes and murals ranging from mythical mermaids to Biblical images, and has crafted musical instruments and home furnishings.  "I've done about all the art expressions one can do in wood," he understated.

In addition, Yule has worked as a high school and college teacher, instructing students in such varied subjects as biology, carpentry, jewelry making and engraving. His World War II military service took him around the world, where he learned to appreciate the native peoples and woods of various countries.

His fascination with different cultures surely helped lead Yule to his largest artistic endeavor, one that is now on display in north Louisiana.

As part of a major street art project in downtown Shreveport, Yule built a giant replica of a Caddo Indian. Entitled "Proffering Peace," the wood and steel sculpture stands 13 feet 6 inches, and is on display at the corner of Marshall and Texas streets in front of the Caddo Parish Courthouse. Fashioned primarily from Louisiana pressure-treated pine and catalpa wood, the Indian is dressed in a traditional ceremonial gown and holds a peace pipe. 

Along with other artists, Yule was chosen by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council to display his work as a part of their "Louisiana on Texas" art project, aimed at promoting outdoor artwork in that city.

Yule drew inspiration from his past experiences living and working with native Americans in Canada. "I had some definite ideas," he said, "and I always have had a great affinity for these people." In addition, as a Christian he liked the idea of encouraging peace and understanding among cultures in the midst of so much turmoil in the world."

Some years ago, Yule had considered sculpting a similar work and installing it on a hilltop in Kentucky, where he once lived. Though that earlier plan didn't materialize, the artist is glad he finally had the opportunity to construct the piece, which has gained appreciative nods from the Caddo Indian community in northwest Louisiana.

Yule was careful to research his subject before he began the sculpture. I had read that the Caddos used cornshucks for their ceremonial gowns." he explained, so for the body of the Indian's outfit he cut rows of shingles to replicate the appearance of frayed cornshucks. Rich hues of brown and turquoise were chosen to finish the sculpture, which also has copper metal embellishments.

Using a variety of saws and hand tools, Yule spent about a year on the massive work, which he estimates is worth about $60.000. Because of its weight and size, the Indian was broken down into six pieces for transport by two flatbed trailer from Yule's home in the Mt. Nebo community to Shreveport. It was then reassembled on the downtown sidewalk where it will remain for about 18 months.  After that, Yule hopes to sell his one-of-a-kind sculpture.

"Proffering Peace" is indeed unique, but that special quality is shared by all f Yule's works, no matter the size. The artist has no interest in standardized designs or mass production.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons his game calls have gained such renown.  "They are all authentic designs that come out of my head," Yule said. "I never want to duplicate myself; that's no fun."

When one remembers that Yule has been carving game calls for more than 50 years, it's all the more impressive that he makes no duplications. Employing a German-made pocketknife for most of his fine work, Yule carves his calls using a variety of woods from Louisiana and elsewhere. While Louisiana persimmon (preferably an "old, old tree") is his favorite medium for calls, he has also crafted stunning pieces from cedar, black walnut, myrtlewood, willow, cherry and maple.

His finest works, both box calls and mouth calls, include intricate carved images - hunting dogs, birds, Indian heads, flowers, even coats of arms and Vikings. The "innate propensities of the wood" - from the grain to t he color to the acoustic qualities - and Yule's active imagination dictate here. "The wood will tell you what to do with it."

Sometimes he adds and engraved brass band or a gemstone. The best calls may take him two months to complete and cost up to $3,000, whereas plainer designs - starting around $150 - can be turned out more quickly.

Yule polishes his calls with fine grades of sandpaper, sometimes gluing it to tooth picks or wrapping it over his fingernail to reach tight spots. He typically finishes each piece with three coats of Danish oil. The result is a work of art that collectors readily recognize as among the best available anywhere.

That kind of recognition has come often to Yule who this spring won his seventh first place award, as well as the "best of show" award, from the National Wild Turkey Federation for his duck and goose calls. He has further burnished his reputation and following by shows and exhibits of his game calls all over the country, from Chicago to Nashville and Atlanta and many points in between. Yule has won three first place awards in competitions sponsored by the national Call-makers and Collectors Association of America.

Yule is also recognized for his development, more than 40 years ago, of the elliptical mouthpiece for game calls; aluminum reeds are also attributed to him. He doesn't limit himself to working with wood, having crafted game calls from bone, ivory, antler and plastics. He's lost count of the number of calls he's made over a lifetime of work.

Yule's family tree has had a woodsy character for decades. His father was a carpenter who also owned two hunting camps on Catahoula Lake. Yule can still recall the smell of fresh cypress as his dad hand-planed the gunwales of a skiff destined for service on the lake. At an early age, he watched his dad make kitchen cupboards, plows, gunstocks and duck calls. His father also once worked as a "flathead" for local lumber companies in the forests of LaSalle Parish.

Yule's grandfather, Thomas Yule, was originally from Scotland, where he became adept as a blacksmith and woodworker. After immigrating to the United States in 1857, Thomas Yule eventually settled in Louisiana, where he worked as a millwright in Pollock after the Civil War and was well-known for his superior skills in metal work and wagon-building. James Yule's maternal grandfather was also a skilled craftsman, whose specialty was building furniture.

Today, the Yule family's association with wood and other creative crafts continues. James Yule's son Len, is a college-trained farrier with special skills in leather braiding, saddle-making and ivory carving. Based in Kentucky, he too, has won national awards and gained a wide reputation for crafting beautiful game calls.

Len Yule's artistry using various media prompts his father's admiration. "I think he's going to be one of the great equestrian artists."

Yule has been generous about teaching his craft, not to members of his own family, but also to others who have an interest in this specialty. "I've taught about a dozen different fellows in this area to make game calls," he said. "There's no point in carrying it to the grave without showing it to someone. When you learn these techniques, it good to pass it on, so someone doesn't have to go through the agony of having to learn by himself."

Thus, a "good fraternity" of fellow craftsmen has developed in and around the Catahoula Lake area, Yule said, and they often swap pieces of wood and advice with one another. "We experiment a lot; the development of duck calls didn't happen overnight."

Besides continuing to design and make game calls, Yule is interested in keeping up with trends in other types of art, especially wood sculpture. He even ponders about teaching people the techniques of building Scandinavian-style log houses, a skill he mastered years ago in Canada. "It's almost a lost art," he lamented.

Wherever his keen imagination leads him, James Yule is sure to bring his finely honed skills and a deep respect for the "call of the wood" with him.


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