Occasionally while working with a book or object I have the chance to find out a great deal about the person that created it. This happened again recently during my work on our upcoming Angling in Special Collections exhibit. One element of the exhibition is a hand-made bamboo fly rod made by Henry Woolman, III. Mr. Woolman lived and worked in the area around the NSLM for many years and it was suggested to me that I reach out to his widow, Marcia Woolman, for information about him to use on the label that will accompany his fly rod in our exhibition. I did so and discovered that Hank was not only a rod maker, fly tier, and fisherman, but also enjoyed foxhunting, hound judging, and art. There was far too much information to include on the exhibit label so I offered Marcia the opportunity to talk about her late husband and their life together here on the NSLM’s blog. She took me up on that offer and what follows is her description of Hank.
Henry N. Woolman III, 11/21/1931 to 7/27/2019 by Marcia Woolman
Hank Woolman, a man with many talents and interests. Hank taught himself to do many of the things that filled his life. He was a country gentleman, and all his complex hobbies related to the outdoors and country life. Hank was a master of the skills he focused on in pursuit of a full life. He made cane (bamboo) rods for over 40 years, which he learned to do from reading a book by Garrison, and by trial and error he became a Master craftsman. A self-taught fly fisherman and fly tier which he eventually turned into a business in Middleburg called “The Outdoorsman.” This eventually led to having a Flyfishing School and guiding, both in Virginia and Montana where he and fellow angler, wife, Marcia had a summer home.
Hank’s complete submersion in his craft took him into the world of beautiful rods, tying the perfect fly to find and catch native fish, and becoming part of the rarified group of bamboo rod makers. He was selected to be one of the Makers when he attended a Cane Rod Makers symposium each summer in Grayling, MI, along the famous Au Sable River in the town where Trout Unlimited was founded over 60 years ago. In the late 1990’s, this group of rod builders, decided to do a fund raiser called “The Makers Rod.” Several selected rod builders were invited to make one strip for “The Makers Rod” and the pieces were sent to be assembled into one cane rod to be chanced off at the Symposium the following summer. What a great honor to be one of the chosen in this exceptional group of talented men.
Hank possessed another talent that comes to some effortlessly, like a natural gift, and to the rest of us it may never come. Defining this talent; it is that inner communication with the natural word, especially that of the fox and hound relationship. At a young age of about 40 he was asked to be Master of the Orange County Hounds (OCH). He had the gift of always knowing where he was, where a fox could be found, and when the chase began, he knew where it would probably go. As an MFH, he needed that gift. He remained MFH at OCH until 1971 when a farming accident took his right hand. But as you can tell from the bamboo rod making, he was determined not to change his outdoor life as he mastered all aspects of fishing and hunting hounds with only his left hand. Hank went on to fox hunt as the Huntsman for Eve Fout’s MOC Beagles, to teach the local children to safely fox hunt and learn all the protocols required. All the while he trained both the hounds and his horses. Last, but not least Hank worked endlessly to do it all well.
But there is more…. Shortly after leaving Johns Hopkins with no fingers, with just, what he referred to, as his “paw,” he began using pencil drawing to develop and fine tune his ability to use his left hand so he could return to his fishing hobbies. Let’s look at each of these endeavors as he salvaged each by determination that never diminished the rest of his life. At the time of his accident he was starting into cane rod making. After he mastered the fundamentals, he started experimenting with creating his own tapers which eventually grew into stiffer rods, rather than the traditional softer early cane rods. He preferred to finish his rods by flaming them slightly with a blow torch rather than leave them the natural light blond color. Hank had rods in both finishes.
Before he took up rod making, he was an accomplished fly tier and fisherman, even identifying a unique sub species of mayfly that used his Woolman name in its identity. After losing his hand he continued tying beautiful dry flies and other aquatic life like nymphs, crustaceans and small fish imitations. It was interesting to see how he managed to tie one of these small imitations onto his fly line. He stuck the pointed end of the fly into the cork on the rod handle which held it still, while he maneuvered his fingers to tie the required knot for that task, as well as all other fishing knots on leaders so thin the fish could see only the fly.
As years passed and more time to be an artist became possible, Hank took some lessons locally, and moved from pencils, charcoal, and watercolors to oil painting. He especially found time and enjoyment in his later years in Yellowstone where landscapes became his favorite. Many were near his Montana summer home were there were endless choices of geological features, wildlife, and vast views of nearby mountains. His life was like a kaleidoscope in its variety of ways to use his many talents. As his dear friend, Eve Fout, once said, “Hank can do more with one hand than most of us can do with two.” She was sure right about that!
If you would like to see NSLM’s Woolman rod please plan to visit the Angling in Special Collections exhibition in the Library’s Forrest E. Mars, Sr. Exhibit Hall located in the Library’s lower level. The exhibit features rare books on angling topics, including our first edition of The Compleat Angler, more than 50 tied flies from our George Chapman collection, angling themed artwork from the Museum’s collection, and photos of best catches submitted from the public especially for this exhibition. Angling in Special Collections will run through August 2020.
Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail.