BY PATTIE DURHAM
Life, it seems, has come full circle for Randy Ard. Two of the things he loved most from his childhood — fishing and sculpting clay animals — have come together as the retired ship carpenter whiles away the hours creating wooden fish sculptures.
Growing up on Beach Court in Fort Pierce, the joys of fishing on the South Bridge and South Jetty were just a walk or a bike ride from home. Ard says his memories, refreshed by illustrations, help him make such realistic creations.
“I remember every day the Parker brothers used to bring their party boats in to the docks at the east end of the South Bridge and they would hang up the day’s catch,” Ard says. “We would always go and look at them. There are differences between fish, like with people.
“I fished everywhere as a kid,” Ard adds, “Five Mile Creek, 10 Mile Creek as well as the bridge and the jetty. The river used to be so clear and there were manta rays all over. We used to catch cobia off the jetty.”
Ard’s family sailed from Long Island, New York, to Florida when he was 5 years old. They lived aboard their boat at the city marina for a year before settling in town. Attending Fort Pierce schools, Ard liked working with clay, sculpting small animals, even winning an honorable mention for the dinosaurs he submitted to a junior high school science fair.
After graduating from high school, Ard earned an associate in arts degree from Indian River Junior College. To pay for tuition and books, he made surfboards. In those days, he made less than $100 a week so he traded in surfboards for yachts. He later returned to school for an associate in science degree in dental lab technology, but found that he didn’t really like the work, so he went back to ship carpentry.
Over the years, he has worked at Lydia Yacht Works and Monterey Marine, among other places, as a ship carpenter. While working on the yachts, some as long as 65 feet, he learned the beauty of various woods.
But working with wood, Ard admits, is more difficult.
“I prefer to work with clay,” Ard says. “It is much more forgiving. If you take too much off, you can put some clay back. Wood is a hard medium. You have to be careful not to take too much off.”
The fish he creates are lifelike and beautiful. One of his creations, a 71/2-foot swordfish carved from black walnut, red oak and white poplar, was recently exhibited in the Pelican Yacht Club lobby. A more recent creation, a 6-foot dolphin carved from elm wood with African red mahogany fins and eyes from a piece of red mangrove he found on the beach, recently sold for $3,500. The proceeds raised go to cancer research.
A couple of years ago, Ard carved from a cedar log an 18-inch tall marlin leaping from the water. He added water splashing up from the base as the marlin emerged. The piece was auctioned off, raising $2,000, at a fishing tournament fundraiser his friend and work partner, Lenny Schelin, organized. While Ard does the intricate carving, Schelin does the final sanding and varnishing on the pieces.
The most amazing aspect of Ard’s work is that he does it all with limited vision. Years ago, he suffered a detached retina and lost sight in that eye. Then, the same thing happened to his good eye. Ard believes his eyes were damaged when a child shined a laser in both eyes. That, or any of the many accidents he was in during about 10 years of racing motorcycles, might have caused his eye problem.
“I was blind for a while,” Ard says, “until my vision came back slowly in one eye. I can still read and still drive. It is kind of a miracle.”
A fervent Christian, Ard adds that he is “thankful to God that he let me see.”
While woodworking and fishing take up much of his retirement, Ard has been an active member at Common Ground Vineyard in downtown Fort Pierce and he volunteers at a Bible study class at St. Lucie County Jail. A 21-year member of the Christian Motorcycle Association, Ard also has helped a project that smuggles Bibles into countries where they are prohibited and has traveled with a ministry to Haiti.
But it’s the memories of his youth that keep bringing him back to the wood.
Years ago, before the new South Bridge was constructed, there were lights on the turnstile where the old bridge would open to let boats through. It was there that moonfish would gather in groups under those lights, Ard says, adding that perhaps his recently completed moonfish mobile might rekindle memories other fishermen from that era might have.
Lives in: Fort Pierce
Family: Two brothers and one sister
Education: Associate in arts degree, Indian River Junior College; associate in science degree in dental lab technology, Indian River Community College
Hobbies: Woodwork and fishing
Who inspires me: “Jesus Christ inspires me. He keeps me going on.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I don’t own a TV or a computer.”