Carving out a niche by making presidential dummies

Thursday, February 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- John Butler likes his presidents to be heartless-wooden-empty-headed-dummies.

Among his other talents Butler, who is "sort of retired," is an expert at making presidential ventriloquist dummies.

This somewhat unusual avocation began back in the Lyndon Johnson era when Butler was repairing instruments at the old Chenowith and Green music store.

As Butler tells it, one day, night club comedians, Teeter and McDonald, came into the store seeking help for McDonald's guitar.

After poking around the store for a while, Teeter told Butler about his plastic and paper mache head of Johnson.

Teeter, who was not pleased with the head, asked if Butler had ever made a dummy's head.

Butler said he had not but agreed to make one for the comedy act.

Since then, Butler has carved heads -- each one takes about 40 hours -- of Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George Bush Sr., and Bill Clinton.

He just finished one of George W. Bush.

His dummies are well-traveled, including visits to the White House.

George Bush Sr.'s dummy is being retired and will be displayed at Bush's Presidential Museum.

Making ventriloquist dummies is a long way from Butlers days with the Army Band at Fort Belvoir, Va. During his service with the band, he played bass, the french horn, was a vocalist, drum major and assistant conductor.

He got an "early out" from the Army to return to Oklahoma State University to complete his education. He received his vocal music education degree and an associate in science education.

He said teaching quickly lost its luster and, after he finished his practice teaching, decided he "wasn't going to put up with the problems."

Butler then hooked up with Chenowith and Green, where he repaired instruments.

Eventually, he became a physical plant supervisor at OSU.

In 1990, he went back to work part-time at Chenowith and Green and stayed until the company went out of business in 1993.

Now he sings in the choir at University Heights Baptist Church, is a substitute choir director, makes furniture, works part-time repairing instruments at Saied Music Co. -- and carves heads for dummies.