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
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
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
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
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
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
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.