If you see someone walking with a cane, and the top of the cane looks like the head of a gnome or a fairy-tale dwarf, there's a pretty good chance you've seen a Knobbit.
Bob Evans — no, not the restaurant guy, the other one — is the man responsible for all the Knobbits in the world. I will explain Knobbits in a moment, but first you should learn about their creator. He is a genial gentleman from southern Virginia who had eight years of education beyond high school but left it behind years and years ago to become what his mother ruefully called "a gypsy wood carver."
"But mom," he told her, "I'm happy!"
I heard this story when I stopped out at the Kutztown Folk Festival the other day to see what the Pennsylvania Dutch have been up to since last summer. I can report that they are still deeply interested in antique tractors and gas-powered corn shellers and hex signs and foods that make heavenly aromas but pose a grave threat to cardiac health.
Evans was standing outside his tent, taking a break from carving and telling a couple of visitors who had admired his long white beard that yes, he does play Santa Claus during the Christmas season.
In addition to this generous beard, Evans wore blue overalls and a leather hat with a feather in it. And because he was surrounded by these rustic carvings — not just canes but free-standing heads and other pieces — I had to stop.
He told me he has been carving almost his whole life, since he picked up a whittling knife as a boy of 10 and taught himself. He is 79 now but looks younger. For that he credits his other passion, bicycle riding.
Carving has been his full-time career for 35 years. He sells his pieces at folk festivals across the mid-Atlantic states. This is his 30th year at Kutztown, where his tent draws a steady crowd.
"It's been a great ride, really," he told me, explaining how he gave up a career in counseling for a life on the road. He remembered how he told his old boss about his plans.
"I told him my heart was in the wood and I was going to go with my heart," he said.
One day in the early 1980s, visiting his mother in the hospital, Evans was passing the time by carving a little head. A woman with a German accent looked at it and told him it looked like one of the Wurtzelgrabers — dwarflike figures from folklore that would carve tree roots into faces resembling their own and leave them on people's doorsteps.
Evans, a man with a generous stock of whimsy, dreamed up Knobbits, imagining them as descendants of the Wurtzelgrabers who settled in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia. He trademarked the Tolkien-style name in 1982 and has produced untold thousands of them since.
He carves the heads out of cypress, usually attaching them to sticks to create distinctive canes that are a kind of functional folk art.
It's a family affair. His wife, Lil, paints the Knobbits. His brother-in-law, Mike French, prepares the wood for the canes. French's wife, Mary, runs sales. The Frenches' grandson, Jonathan, was also helping out on this trip.
All Knobbits bear a family resemblance but each is distinct. Some have long beards, others short. Some have beaklike noses, others have big round schnozzolas.
The canes had tags inscribed with phrases meant to reflect something of the character of the Knobbit. "We always stick together," said the tag on one two-headed cane.
Evans tells buyers that good luck is guaranteed with every purchase.
"If you don't have good luck within a year," he said, "call me and I'll cheer you up."
• The Kutztown Folk Festival runs through Sunday. http://www.kutztownfestival.com