Phil McCrillis, also known as “Uncle Lumpy,” with some of his wooden creations. The Bethel Citizen photo by Samuel Wheeler

BETHEL — Phil McCrillis, or “Uncle Lumpy,” as he is known by his family and friends, was recently named 2019 Artist of Honor for Bethel.

The Roxbury resident has dabbled in many things throughout his life. He has worked as a carpenter, carver, woodworker, gem cutter, miner and jeweler.

He now finds himself mostly working with wood. He carves wooden toys and stains them with tung oil, a type of finish oil. The oil becomes completely nontoxic 24 hours after it is applied.

None of his wooden toys and sculptures contain any screws, one of the many impressive features of his product.

His products are on sale at Philbrook Place, off Main Street in Bethel.

In a way, his grandson was one of the reasons his woodcarving business took off.

“When my grandson was born, my game plan was to buy him a nice wooden toy he could hand down to his kids eventually,” McCrillis said. “I couldn’t find one that wasn’t made in China. I said to myself, I have some basic skills I can probably make him one — and I did.”

McCrillis said his grandson now has one of almost every product he has at his store — and a tree house McCrillis built for him two years ago.

After McCrillis posted a few images of his work online, people started asking if he would sell his products and for how much.

McCrillis soon started making them for other people. His daughter convinced him to make an Etsy account, an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies.

Now his products are going everywhere.

“I’ve shipped stuff all over the world,” McCrillis said. “I’ve shipped a dinosaur to Australia, two Maine lobsters to California and a moose to New Mexico.”

McCrillis can build some of his products in a couple of 10-hour days, but said others can take close to 70 hours to complete.

He was surprised when he learned he was Artist of Honor for Bethel.

“I was just sitting here working on some carvings when all of a sudden a whole parade of people come in here with cake, donuts and balloons,” said McCrillis, who has three children and has lived in Maine all his life.

“I was totally taken aback, I’m still trying to soak it in. It’s not something I went out looking for. I do this for fun, I don’t do it for fame or fortune.”

Outside of his woodworking skills, McCrillis spent more than three decades as a gemstone miner, cutter and jeweler.

McCrillis has gemstones and mineral specimens in the Smithsonian. He also said the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum plans to have a “McCrillis section,”of his work on display.

‘Uncle Lumpy’ explained

The name “Uncle Lumpy” comes from McCrillis’ days in the gem and mineral business.

He and his friend, John Bradshaw, who was a gem cutter, were traveling to Rochester, New York, to a gem and mineral symposium when their car broke down. By the time they showed up to the hotel, their rooms had been given away.

McCrillis and his friend begged for a room and were given one to share. When they got to the room, there was only one bed.

“We ended up sleeping in the bed together, the bed was very soft and because I am big and he is not so big he kept rolling into me throughout the night,” McCrillis said. “I woke up the next morning and he was completely sprawled on top of me.”

After they were both awake, his friend called his wife.

“He had her on speakerphone, with his kids in the background,” McCrillis said. “He told her the story and she thinks it’s funny and then the littlest one asks, ‘When you were sleeping on Uncle, was he lumpy?’ And I’ve been Uncle Lumpy ever since.”

The child referred to him as “Uncle” because McCrillis had been close to the family for years.

Another fun fact about Uncle Lumpy is that his brother’s friend owns a beer company and wondered if McCrillis could carve him some custom tap handles. He carved a couple and brought them to one of his shops Portsmouth.

While the man was writing McCrillis his check, he noticed it said “Uncle Lumpy’s Crafts” and asked him if he could use the name. He ended up naming a beer after him. It was a porter-style beer only available for a limited time.

“For a porter, it’s very smooth. It’s got some chocolate overtones to it,” McCrillis said. “They’ve actually used it in making some desserts, too.”

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