Ask anyone walking down the street in Coeur d’Alene where to find Stickman, and odds are they’ll know who you’re talking about.
Stickman’s name is Norman Oss, and he’s been producing hand-carved walking sticks under the carport next to his home near East Tubbs Hill Park for the last 15 years. He estimates that he’s made about 11,000 individual sticks – an average of two or three per day – and he’s given them all away. He’s never accepted money, trades or tips: His motto is “Not everything in life is for sale.”
Oss’ sticks are simple creations – he merely peels away the bark and sands them smooth, a process that takes about two hours – yet they’ve become a Coeur d’Alene institution.
But on Wednesday afternoon, Oss made an announcement on his Facebook wall: His makeshift walking stick factory, which he calls Sticks and Stones, will be closing.
Oss, 66, and his wife live in a two-bedroom in-law unit adjacent to a house that has changed owners, and although Oss doesn’t have to leave his own home, the new resident needs to use the garage space that Sticks and Stones has occupied.
That won’t stop Oss from stick-making entirely; it will just slow down his output. The house’s new owner is building him a brand new deck, so although he won’t have as much space, he’ll still be around to hand out sticks to visitors. “I’ll still be here,” Oss explained, “and they can knock on my door.”
Oss’ daily routine began when he made his own walking stick to replace a broken one. He enjoyed doing it, and a second walking stick turned into a third, and he kept right on making them. “It’s something I do six or seven hours a day, every day of the year,” Oss said, “no matter if it’s January or July. It’s just kind of what I do.”
A Vietnam veteran and a grandfather of three, Oss said he’s had as many as a hundred visitors in a day, and he’s gifted sticks to two mayors, the local fire chief, TV news personalities and former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien.
“People come by and they want to know what that guy’s doing sitting across the street making sticks,” he said. “So they come over and they find out, and the rest is history … I’ve had kids come back every year since second grade, and now they’re seniors in high school.”
Oss retired in 2007 – he worked for Port of Hope, a sober living facility. That’s when he turned his full attention to crafting his signature sticks.
“I still love what I do every day; I just don’t have the room now,” he said. “It gives me a lot of satisfaction and it’s been my life for quite a long time. It’s not for glory or money or anything like that, and it never has been. I guess a little era is sort of coming to an end.”
Although the Sticks and Stones sign is coming down and Oss’ usual post – a plastic chair beneath an open garage door – will have moved in the coming weeks, Stickman hasn’t gone anywhere.
“I tell people, ‘If I ever give you a stick, I want you to wave when you go by,’ ” he said. “Everybody that drives by here waves.”