Photo by Jon Slusher Califon resident Gerald Andersen sits on his front porch next to a wood carving he made of a fisherman selling his fish. Andersen says he gets ideas for his wood carvings during his daily three-mile walks on the Columbia Trail.
By JON SLUSHER, Editor
Published: Jul 23rd, 12:44 PM
Andersen’s colorful wood carvings have been on display in local shows, and are now a collection of his work is one of the featured exhibits for July and August at the Outsider Folk Art Gallery in Reading, Pa.
The two soon discovered, however, that collecting folk art was an expensive hobby and was “out of reach” financially for us at the time,” said Mr. Andersen.
Andersen didn’t give up on his interest and decided to put together his own collection by making folk carvings himself. “I said to myself, ‘I can do that,” he recalled.
Having never taken a course in wood carving, Andersen was self-taught and said his new hobby came naturally for him. “The nice thing about being self-taught is that if you don’t understand the complexities of things, you’re not necessarily intimidated by doing them.”
Working out in his barn, Andersen used wood scraps of mostly pine along with acrylic paints, and copied works in museum and auction catalogues and antiques magazines, he said. He would glue the wood scraps together, and then carve and paint them with acrylic paint.
Andersen said that he eventually grew tired of copying things and decided that he wanted to do wood carvings that “were an expression of myself.” One of his favorite early carvings was one of George Washington riding a Bald Eagle.
Andersen exhibited his work in various shows and won several blue ribbons, including one in which the curator of the Brooklyn Art Museum gave him an award of special merit.
He eventually stopped wood carving in the 1980’s because of the demands on his time from raising a family and commuting to New York City, where he worked as a manager for a trade association in the mensware business. He has taken up his hobby once again since his retirement a year ago. “I felt it was a good time to get back into it,” he said.
During the warm weather, Andersen carves and paints on the front porch of his circa-1825 home, which he and his wife restored after they purchased it. During the winter months, he works inside. “I would like to put a studio out in the barn,” he said. “My wife is getting fed up with the wood chips on the kitchen floor.”
Andersen’s subject matter comes from history, literature and sports. He said that uses bright colors and that he likes “things with a little twist and some humor.”
Sometimes he says he comes up with ideas during his daily three-mile walks on the Columbia Trail that runs through Califon, while other times he takes inspiration from American or antique folk art, or by just reading a novel.
One of his most recent wood carvings, one of Captain Ahab riding Moby Dick, was inspired after he recently read Herman Melville’s classic “Moby Dick.” The work, 25 inches high by 25 inches long, is larger than most of the carvings he had done, he said.
Some of Andersen’s other works includes “In Dog We Trust,” a dog surrounded by four cats; and a carving of a necktie salesman displaying four colorful ties, which Andersen made of tin. Hanging on the wall in his kitchen is a carving of a man leading a pig to market, which he made in the 1980’s. Anderson said that both of his grown children have pieces of his work and that they “appreciate it.”
Andersen said it takes him anywhere from two to three weeks to complete a wood carving. “It all depends on how complex it is,” he said. “I work on them when I have a chance.”
He said that after retiring he became frustrated after attending various shows and seeing mostly paintings but little folk art. He then contacted the American Folk Art Museum to see what he could do to get his work more exposure and they told him to become associated with a folk art gallery. Andersen has since become associated with the Outsider Folk Art Gallery, where he currently has 11 pieces of his work on exhibit.
Anderson still has the same approach to his wood carving that he had when he first became involved in it 25 years ago.
“Even if I am trying to make a serious statement about something, I like to do it in a way that puts a smile on people’s faces,” he said.