A piece of wood, a pocketknife, and nothing but time…
Hobo art and tramp art were uniquely born of independent spirit. Hobos whittle. Tramps carve. Both craft amazing objects from discarded items and found materials, recycling them into picture frames, jewelry boxes, functional furniture, and enchanting objects of whimsy. And one man, Adolph Vandertie – known as the Grand Duke of Hobos – has created and amassed over 4,000 rare and beautiful pieces of this distinctive folk art form.
As a child during the Depression, Adolph was captivated by a desire for travel. He frequented the hobo jungles, ate Mulligan Stew, and rode the rails. He was part of a world where freedom-loving men told preposterous stories of adventure and measured the time by whittling.
Preferring the company of hobos to school, Adolph once watched as a hobo whittled a ball-in-the-cage, the quintessential trademark of a hobo whittler. From that moment, Adolph was hooked, and a lifelong obsession with whittling and collecting took hold.
At the age of 21, Adolph put his traveling days behind him. His sweetheart Adeline proposed, they were married and began a life of 69 years together. Little did Adeline know that her future home – built piece by piece by Adolph – would also become home to thousands of unique and interesting pieces of tramp and hobo art. A living museum of a dying craft from a dying culture…
As he grew older, Adolph traded one addiction for another, using whittling as a compulsive form of therapy to battle addictions with alcohol and tobacco – freeing him to create more and more of his unbelievably intricate works of art. The end result is a man who found peace in a sharp blade and a good piece of wood. A man who created incredible works of art – in a way that only the most skilled hand could accomplish.
At 95 years young, Adolph has faced a lifetime of hardship and heartache, addiction and fascination. Westbound is his story captured as documentary – a story in which unflinching American history and uniquely American art merge.
This touchingly honest full-length film is the recollection of Adolph’s life and his obsession with preserving a culture he was never fully part of. It celebrates the joy of pure creative expression, and portrays the small and fading light of hobo culture. Its gentle insights strive to uncover how this scarcely educated man recognized the need to preserve the past in the hope of understanding the present.