'Way beyond a hobby' A room of his own: Alone each night in his basement, Waymon McCoy turns out uncanny sculptures he crafts meticulously from bits of wet newsprint.

March 29, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

By day, the hands -- thick, calloused and ashen -- repair broken stoves, scrape ceilings and polish floors at aging buildings.

At night, Waymon McCoy's hands delicately grasp, squeeze and transform bits of wet newspaper into shapes that soon become works of sculpture.

Waymon McCoy lives his dream at night. Working into the early hours in the basement of his Govans home in North Baltimore, he sculpts papier-mache statues as lifelike and realistic as "everything I see on the street," he said.

"It's something that I can relax with when I get home from work and something that makes me feel good," said Mr. McCoy, a maintenance man and mechanic for the St. Ambrose Housing Center.

"I can sculpture anything that I make up my mind to do," he said. "I can go into that basement and stay there all day. That's the only enjoyment that I have and I like. Other people look at TV, but I like this. It's mine. It's nobody else's," he said.

For more than 30 years, Mr. McCoy, 60, has sculpted paper figures -- since the day two of his now-grown children brought home art projects from school that he commandeered and fell in love with doing.

"When my kids were in grade school, I said, 'Let me see what happens when I put my mind to this,' " he said.

Until recently, his co-workers at St. Ambrose had no idea he was an artist. But during a black history program last month, Mr. McCoy, who has never had art lessons, displayed for the first time the scores of sculptures of various sizes that he spent months creating.

"We were all blown away. No one ever knew he did works like this. He never said anything," said Eileen Gillan, who works in the center's marketing department. "We now think of him as an artist who does maintenance for a living. But an artist first."

Mr. McCoy has scores of pieces -- mostly of Africans or African-Americans -- that have an uncanny realism. He sculpts figures and faces, displaying them throughout his house.

For example, he used his nose as the model for the nose on a statue of Jesus Christ.

"You can see it's kind of a big nose, like mine," Mr. McCoy said. "Jesus Christ was supposed to be life-size, but I had to cut it down when I brought it from the garage to the house."

Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum on Key Highway in South Baltimore, said many artists unwind with art or use it as a diversion.

"Anything that people concentrate on is a release for the rest of the world," Ms. Hoffberger said. "Whether it's bowling or watching 'The Simpsons,' it's a release."

Mae McCoy, Mr. McCoy's wife of 40 years, works as a nurse until about midnight daily but knows he'll be in the basement when she comes home -- not necessarily waiting up for her but absorbed in his world of papier-mache sculpting.

"That's his hobby, and you can't take that away from him," she said. "In fact, I try not to go down there. I don't want to interrupt. That's his territory. That's his space."

He normally does not display his work, but he once made a gorilla -- "a Mighty Joe Young," his wife said -- that he let the neighborhood kids see.

"It was a beautiful work. They were truly amazed by what he had done," she said.

The weekends occasionally cause a problem when Mr. McCoy has sculpting on his mind but his wife wants to go somewhere.

"We've had a few talks about my doing this on weekends maybe sometimes too much," he said. "But we've got an understanding."

Mr. McCoy uses no molds or casts for his sculptures. If he wants to create the same piece a second or third time, he makes a replica from scratch.

He was told years ago that if he wanted to mass produce or sell his works, using a mold would make it easier.

"That all is a ways off," he said. "I'd like to do nothing but this, but that is a long ways off."

For now, Mr. McCoy plans to continue to spend his nights with his sculpting.

"It's a lonely job, but it's way beyond a hobby now," he said. "It's something that I can look at and know that I did and see it as part of me."

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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