By Jerry Eltzroth
CV&T Guest Colntributor
After retiring from CSX Railroad with 39 years of service, most people would sit back and take it easy. That’s not the case for Aubrey Miller, a somewhat well kept secret of Estill County. He is pursuing a passion for the woodworking craft that he has honed his entire life until it has lifted him to the status of artist. Aubrey may not agree with my appraisal, but if you observe him working at his craft and view his finished work, you too would agree with my assessment.
Aubrey’s training began with several semesters of woodworking classes in Estill County High School and working with his father, Gene Miller, who was very skilled at rendering wood, metal, leather, driftwood and many other natural materials into useful or artistic items. Gene would read books he obtained from the library to develop his skills. If the library did not have the book he needed, they would purchase it.
One very special skill that Gene possessed was the ability to do chip carving and produce artistic items from these wooden chips, whose faceted surfaces catch the light to give off a glinting appearance. Aubrey has several beautiful examples of his father’s chip carving pieces. If he had access to the information on the internet today, there would have probably been no bounds to Gene’s artistic endeavors.
Aubrey heaped praise on his father for helping him to develop his own woodworking skills. Aubrey eventually bought a Shop Smith, a multi-purpose woodworking machine, which he and his father shared to further develop both their skills. Aubrey Miller had a close relationship with his father. They worked together for years in an old wash room that was his father’s shop. Eventually they built a shop to provide more room for their equipment and their spare time endeavors. Unfortunately, Gene passed away in 1998 only 3 months after his new shop was in use. Aubrey found his father lying on the steps where Gene had tried to make his final ascent into his new woodworking shop.
As Aubrey heaped praise on his father, I could sense the deep love he had for his father. It is also quite obvious that Aubrey inherited that ‘skilled tinkerer’ gene that his father possessed along with his father’s artistic eye.
The many items pictured here, that Aubrey has produced in his Blackburn Road shop equipped with modern woodworking tools, proves my assessment. Aubrey has crafted 62 dulcimers and has sold more than 40 of them. He also produces beautiful wooden bowls, vases, bracelets, Christmas tree ornaments and does some custom work—knife cases, oval mirror frames plus many other unique items. Custom work can be fashioned from the wood of a patron’s own cherished tree. All these articles signed on the bottom by Aubrey will no doubt be prized by collectors one day.
One item that Gene Miller created from a tree branch he found is very special to Aubrey. The branch appears to be a silhouette of a man with a knife sheath on his hip. Gene carved a ‘foot’ at the bottom of this naturally occurring branch to render it into a walking cane. This cane was presented to Aubrey by his father the day that Aubrey became a Christian. Aubrey would not take a ‘shower in a gold mine’ for the walking stick.