Sam McKinney uses a machete to scrape small pieces of glycerin-based modeling clay textured to look like the tufts of hair on an American bison. A 5-foot-tall foam likeness of the animal – about the size of a female – stands on a wheeled platform in the middle of his workshop. He will press each freshly formed piece of hair, filling in holes in the beast's mane.
The 66-year-old artist lives in a world of his own making in Olive Hill in Carter County. He built a house in the woods and, on the interior, he surrounds himself with displays of his paintings and sculptures. He says he's still getting used to living on his own after divorcing his second wife six years ago. It was the same year his father died, and just three years after his mother passed. He keeps two dogs and three cats, relying on them for company.
His work helps. He took his first commission when he was 16 years old. He continues to produce, including nine pieces on display in King's Daughters Medical Center. The bison is for Carlson Software, a Maysville-based technology company. While he makes art to earn a living, he also uses it to pass the lonely hours. He says it's a meditative process.
"When I'm creating, time seems to not exist," he says.
His best friend, Stanley Dixon, 62, visits often from Huntington, West Virginia, about 45 minutes away. His wife died about two and a half years ago. Stanley's presence has an obvious effect on Sam, who grows more animated and smiles as they play guitar and harmonica together.
"We help each other through loneliness," Sam says. "True friends are just as important as family."