Artist profile

Jordan Anderson

As a teenager, carver Jordan Anderson took one look at a 14-foot log and saw an orca.

Up until that moment, he’d spent years working for his father’s custom log home business, and he knew his way around a chainsaw. While he had amused himself as a teen by sketching Alaska sea life, he rarely picked up a pencil anymore. But he still had an artist’s eye.

So he grabbed his chainsaw and began carving.

Soon, he was getting requests from people who’d seen the giant wooden orca he eventually carved. “That first year, I started carving a lot of caricature stuff to make a buck,” Jordan describes. “I made a lot of folk-arty moose, bears with welcome signs. It was a fun way to get started, just hanging out by the campfire and coming up with dumb ideas.”
He used the money to buy the tools that would enable him to hone his skills. By his third year of carving, he entered a competition in Oregon, where he made a carving of two whales and scored fifth place in a field of 50 competitors.

“Not too bad,” he says, then laughs. “But I was so young and full of it – I thought I should have placed better!”
Today, his made-on-site competition carvings have garnered him more than a dozen national and international awards and taken him far from his home in Alaska to locales like Scotland and Germany.

Back in Alaska, tourists and locals alike can stop by his Turnagain gallery and watch the artist as he turns chunks of Western red cedar and Sitka spruce into life-sized elk, or octopuses with swirling tentacles.
To prepare the wood, Jordan peels the bark off, then decides what the focal point of the sculpture will be. Then he makes “proportion cuts,” slicing away large blocks of wood where the face, arms, legs and body will eventually appear.

The more competitions he has entered, the more adept he’s gotten at making those “committed cuts”: “You really need to move through the wood fast, so the best way to do that is to make real big, dedicated cuts, and you end up with a few big chunks on the ground around you right off the bat, rather than slowly etching away.”
But getting that general shape was his first hurdle as a novice sculptor.

“I knew log home building – that kind of work is all angles,” Jordan explains. “When I carved my first human face, it was very flat because I was trying to get everything to look right when you viewed it from the front. The biggest learning curve for me was really all about seeing things with depth perception as an artist.”
Though his carvings are large, their details are intricate. After making block cuts, Jordan carves the fine hairs on a bear or the suction cups of an octopus with a die grinder and a selection of hundreds of different tips, some of which he designed himself.

Jordan works on custom orders, carving statues, benches and accents for his clients’ homes. He’s created whales, eagles and turtles; motorcycles and human figures rowing kayaks; bears, both realistic and cartoonish; a Tree Ent from The Lord of the Rings that moves when you pull the ropes attached to it. He has even carved Yoda from the Star Wars movies.

When he’s not working on a project, he teaches others. This summer, he’s hosting a carving school for would-be sculptors in which he will show students how to block out a piece of wood to create a bird and a fish.

“The goals for the students are learning those basics, but also realizing the artist that they are,” Jordan says.