If everyone has a hidden talent, Niagara’s Roger Newhouse discovered his at 55 years old while attending a wood carving exhibition. “The first show I went,” Newhouse recalled, “I was attracted to the fish carvings, and I decided right there I have to give this a try.” Turning a block of wood into a carved fish would be a challenge. “I didn’t have a teacher,” he said, “It was up to me to learn how to do this on my own.”
It’s no surprise Newhouse would teach himself to be a successful fish carver. He’d overcome every challenge life cast his way. “I’m kind of a walking, living, breathing miracle,” Newhouse said. Newhouse says he was frequently abused growing up. He found refuge through drinking. “I found that alcohol was something that worked at the time for killing the pain, so I became addicted to that,” Newhouse said.
Newhouse spent time in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. After leaving the service, his life continued to drift in the wrong direction. He still abused alcohol, and eventually found himself homeless. Newhouse remembers the day he turned his life around. “October 10th, 1977,” Newhouse recalled, “I haven’t had a drink since and that’s been 40 years ago.” He entered a treatment program and defeated his alcohol addiction.
Now sober, things began to look up. Newhouse eventually met his wife and started a family. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that he discovered his hidden talent, fish carving. I can go out into any lake I want, catch a fish out of that lake, bring it home, and replicate it in a piece of wood,” Newhouse said. An avid fisherman, he was inspired by his trip to the wood carving show. He began catching fish from local lakes and sketching patterns from them. He spent hours a day in his Niagara shop, crafting an exact replica of each fish out of wood. His carvings ranged from a few inches to a few feet long. He’d mount each completed fish on a piece of Lake Superior driftwood.
Despite being a relative novice, Newhouse felt confident about his progress and began entering fish carving competitions. He quickly made his mark as one of the best fish carvers in the world. “After about 13 months of carving I got bold to go to the World Fish Carving Championships that year held in Springfield, Illinois,” Newhouse said, “I ended up winning eight world ribbons.” In total, Newhouse has won 11 world ribbons for his carvings, and numerous local awards too. These days he carves mostly for fun. He’s amassed so many carvings in the last two decades, he ran out of places to display them. “I had a family room that was full of all these fish carvings,” Newhouse quipped.
In 2016, Newhouse donated most of his collection to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc. The museum created an exhibit showcasing a school of Newhouse’s award-winning fish. He’s happy his work found a home. It took a long time for Newhouse to find his hidden talent, but he’s grateful that he finally did. “I can’t believe that all this good has happened to me,” Newhouse said.