by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff
Roy Klitch, 82, of Old Town can tell some good fish stories, like the time he caught a 550-pound tuna off the coast of Maine in 1970s, and sold it for thousands of dollars. He can tell you stories about good times cruising Maine waters in his sailboat and his powerboat. But many of his stories have to do with the fish-inspired weathervanes he has created over the past 30 years.
Klitch said he started making wooden weathervanes when Joe Sewall, his employee at Sewall Co. in Old Town, mentioned in 1960 that he would like to have an Atlantic salmon weathervane to put on the roof of his salmon camp.
Klitch had never never done wood carving and had never made a weathervane. “I decided I’d give it a try. I think it’s still there on the camp,” he said.
Klitch worked for Sewall Co. for 40 years as a pilot doing aerial survey and mapping for the company. “It was a wonderful job. It was a great privilege to work for Sewall.”
After that first weathervane, “I made a few more,” Klitch said.
Klitch’s workshop is in the cellar of his house. A long workbench lines one wall. Everything has a place and everything is in its place so when he needs a specific tool for one of his projects, it’s where it ought to be. “I spend the winter down here,” he said.
Klitch’s weathervanes begin with a slab of seasoned, kiln-dried cedar. He draws the outline of the desired fish on the wood. It might be a swordfish, Atlantic salmon, a whale, large-mouthed bass, striped bass, shark, codfish, catfish or dolphin. Next he blocks the design out and roughs it to the proper shape, then works it until it is a smooth, fish shape without fins, which are added later
“The body has to be rounded, no flat surfaces,” Klitch said.
He made a ballyhoo bait fish weathervane for a client in the Bahamas. His catfish weathervanes went to clients in Mississippi and Arkansas. He even made a rooster weathervane for someone who lives in New Brunswick.
The next step in making the weathervane is to saw the fish shape in half lengthwise. Using drills and chisels, he hollows out the two segments. “That enables the wood to shrink and not crack,” Klitch said. Then he glues the two pieces back together. He adds glass eyes, fins and tail. He finishes each fish using an airbrush to apply color appropriate for each fish and covers that with automobile-grade clearcoat to make the fish shiny. He said he strives for a realistic look — “but from a distance.”
Klitch mounts the fish weathervane on a stainless steel rod and fits to wind direction indicators — N, E, S, W — made of brass. Each weathervane is signed with his initials, LJK.
It takes Klitch at least 50 hours to make a weathervane, though if it’s a whale, he can turn one out in 35 to 40 hours. “But that’s with a lot of time in between to let things dry right,” he said.
Klitch said he has made approximately 30 of the weathervanes over a period of 30 or so years. Many now occupy places of honor on the roofs of houses along the Maine coast.
“One was struck by lightning and one had its eyes pecked out by seagulls,” he said.
Currently, two of his weathervanes, a large-mouthed bass and a striped bass, are back in his shop for repairs, but soon will be returned to their owners.
The weathervane turning in the wind at Klitch’s house is a dolphin.
Klitch said one of his wood carving heroes is Mike Butler, who grew up in Old Town and now lives in the South. “I started him going [wood carving], and he went right by me. He’s a perfectionist. He works for big companies, such as Orvis. His carved fish look more like the fish than the real fish does,” Klitch said.
These days, Klitch likes to work on smaller pieces, fish that are attached to a curved rod fitted to a wooden base.
“What led me to make the smaller ones — it was something to do in the winter,” he said. “They make nice gifts.”
He also makes intricate ship model from kits containing pieces smaller than toothpicks. But if someone wanted him to make a fish weathervane, he would consider taking the commission.
For information, call Klitch at 944-2935.