Standing guard in the front yard of Matt Morris’ Conyers home is “the sailor dude,” as he calls one of his prize works of art. Explaining that the “tree needed to come down anyway,” Morris turned his chainsaw onto it and crafted a character that resembles a wizard holding a pole with a blade on it as a bird sits on top.
“I made so many mistakes on him,” Morris said. “He’s taller than I am, but he was a lot bigger. Every time I messed up, he got smaller. ... This was my second carving with a chainsaw. It’s dangerous. The next thing you know, you’re twisted and upside down with a chainsaw beside your head.”
Morris’ Instagram posts give a glimpse into his humor, as well as his many talents and interests. There’s one of him in the driver’s seat of his truck with a funny look on his face and a skeleton sitting beside him. On his post featuring the sailor dude/wizard, Morris writes, “My second attempt at a chainsaw carving — and having myself voted out of the neighborhood.”
Wood carving is just one of many interests for this Conyers native, and while he is relatively new to the art, his work is gaining attention and a following — so much so that he jokes and says he’s worried it will turn into a job. For him, it’s more of a family tradition.
“I’ve just started this stuff,” he says of his wood art. “My father passed away two years ago, and I got all his tools. The last few times I went to see him, I was impressed with the stuff he did. He went to a little carving club and sat in with them. Then he went to a carving show and won first place. He carved a car door with a dog hanging out of it. He carved some really nice stuff. He carved a man running to the outhouse. He carved gourds and did amazing things with gourds. My dad did a lot of things, and now I’m trying to do them also.”
His father was the late Paul Morris, who lived in Stockbridge until he retired and then moved back to his native hometown of Inman, South Carolina. After he moved, Morris said their visits were few and far between, but he enjoyed spending time with his dad and discussing his many projects.
“He gave me his old Massey Ferguson tractor,” Morris said. “His dad gave it to him and he built three houses with that. He poured concrete, framed the houses, did the shingles, all the plumbing, electrical, paint. We’d help him on the weekends. I remember the tractor. I got the tractor and completely rebuilt it. I’m going to keep it in the family.”
Morris is also finishing some of the projects his father didn’t get to, including a kitchen hutch he started before he died. He is installing the glass and putting on the doors. His father also repaired furniture, and Morris is fixing up some rockers and a table.
“I’ve got all kinds of tools, machines, band saws,” he said. “ ... He gave me every carving tool money can buy, I think. Then he handed me a $2 razor blade carving knife and said, ‘This right here is all you need.’”
Morris is the middle child with an older brother and younger sister and remembers special times growing up in Conyers, where his mother, Frances Mullins, who still lives in Conyers, worked as an apartment complex manager for several properties. He went to C.J. Hicks Elementary, Conyers Middle and Rockdale County High School. From the time he was in fourth grade until he finished high school, Morris ran a paper route for the Rockdale Citizen.
All those years delivering newspapers on his bicycle apparently paid off — not only with some money in his pocket while growing up, he says — but because he became a bicycle champion. By the time he was in middle school, Morris was gaining fame as a BMX (bicycle motocross) star. He and two friends, Clay Parker and Steve Hodges, put Conyers on the map for BMX competition.
“We started racing bicycles,” he said. “We put on a show. We would jump cars. We were like Evel Knievel. At all our shows, we would jump a car like it was nothing and take one hand off the handlebar. ... We won all the local races, went to state qualifiers and we’d go to the National World Cup and meet guys from Australia and all over the world. I won fourth place in the world cup. That was 1985. ... In my class, I was No. 1 nationally in order to get to that. That was a good year, 1985.”
That was a big winning year for Morris, who raced on 20-inch BMX style bikes. He also had trick bikes where a rider could stand on pegs on the axles and handlebars that would spin around and around. He and his friends turned the former Hodges Ace Hardware in Olde Town into a bicycle headquarters. The boys performed in front of thousands of people at fall festivals, Fourth of July events and the Cherry Blossom Festival. People came to see them jump over cars. They would ride in parades, and the boys put together a team of BMX performers.
“We got these kids from around town and had them from 5 years old, 6, 7, and there’d be 12 of us sometimes going to the race,” Morris said. “Other bike teams would just turn and go home. We’d come home with a bunch of first place trophies.”
Morris said he and his friend Clay performed as partners but also enjoyed one-upping each other from time to time.
“We would just challenge each other,” he said. “If he’d jump over something, I’d jump over something and take my hand off the handle. That’s how we got better and better.”
It was all fun and games, as they say, until Clay had a bike accident and broke his thigh bone in half.
“That ended it for us,” Morris said. “No more jumping cars, anyway.”
Their priorities were changing, as well. Morris finished high school in 1986, and by this time the boys were driving cars and there were girlfriends, so their BMX days were behind them. It was time to go to work, so Morris went to work with his dad painting cars.
“I’ve painted cars all my life,” he said. “Some have won shows and been in World of Wheels. I painted Creflo Dollar’s $400,000 Bentley. I painted Evander Holyfield’s two black Navigators. I’ve painted a Rolls Royce ... and a DeLorean. I worked for Wild Willie’s, a custom truck accessory center. I put more stuff on some vehicles it looked like a magnet went through a hardware store.”
Painting and car work are also a family tradition.
“We’re all in the automotive collision industry,” Morris says of his family. “I’ve painted cars for 27 years. We do body work and frame work. That’s what I’m doing now. But I’ve been in a car accident, so I’m between jobs right now, and I think I’m about to have a hip replacement.”
Morris said it was about two and a half years ago he was in his vehicle on the interstate ramp and waiting to exit off onto Ga. Highway 138 when a car hit him. He said it tore his shoulder, ruptured discs and drove his knees into the dashboard. “It’s been a mess,” he said.
He says he can no longer do many activities as a result of his injuries, and doctors have told him if he swings a golf club, it could paralyze him, so Morris has spent his convalescing time working on his art. While he attempted to draw during his school days, it wasn’t until he finished high school and went to work painting cars and other vehicles that he discovered how much he enjoyed it.
“That’s an artistic thing — painting flames on motorcycles,” he said.
For the past couple of football seasons, Morris has made wooden plaques in the shape of the state of Georgia and painted them with a design in University of Georgia colors.
“I sold them as fast as I could make them,” he said. “I did some for Auburn and Alabama. I did Georgia Tech for my stepdad.” He speaks fondly of his stepfather, the late Grady Mullins, a World War II veteran who died last year.
“I’ve been threatening to pick a holiday and make a lot of stuff and sell it,” he said. “Turn it into a job, but I didn’t like that pressure. I’d rather start making Christmas stuff for next year.”
He took old windows his father collected through the years, framed them all together and built himself a greenhouse. He also carved three bears and put them out front to “guard it.” Other creations include guitar replicas and a bathroom sink carved out of wood.
Morris is also dabbling into painting using acrylics and has a 3-by-4-foot painting of a boat. His first chainsaw carving was from a tree in the back yard. He turned it into a bucket suspended in mid-air as it pours out water. His father gave him concrete molds to make bird baths and picnic tables, and he’s made some bird baths. He’s also done some intricate wood burning pieces, including several depicting a lineman working on power lines.
An avid turkey and deer hunter, Morris enjoys the outdoors and spending time with his mother and his three grown daughters and their children. He’s carved keepsake plaques for his little grandchildren with their names on them.
What’s next? He’s thinking about putting together some ceramic grandmas and grandpas. He said when he went up into his father’s attic, it was “creepy” because he had a bunch of ceramic heads and hands “laying everywhere.” His father had not gotten around to fashioning them together with their stuffed bodies wearing overalls and dresses. Morris is making plans to finish the work.
“I haven’t watched TV in almost three years,” he said. “There’s always something to do.”