Artist Pro­file

This self-taught wood­carver used to de­sign war­heads for a liv­ing. Now his at­ten­tion has turned to more tran­quil and in­spir­ing pro­jects.

Log Home Living - - CONTENTS -

He used to de­sign missles. Now Justin Gor­don finds peace in wood.

Justin Gor­don carves al­most any­thing he can get his hands on: sand, snow, ice and, of course, wood. From an early age, he started whit­tling “lit­tle 3-inch men” out of scrap pieces of lum­ber and quickly re­al­ized he had a knack for it. His pas­sion grew to the point that he wanted to ma­jor in art in col­lege, but his very tra­di­tional par­ents steered him to­ward what they thought was a more prac­ti­cal di­rec­tion: en­gi­neer­ing.

Upon grad­u­a­tion, he landed his first job with a de­fense com­pany — de­sign­ing mis­siles. “Once you’re in that mar­ket, you kind of bump around to jobs with other Depart­ment of De­fense con­trac­tors, but it’s all pretty much the same,” Justin ex­plains.

Through­out this time, he kept his pas­sion for carv­ing alive and well, and he’d built up quite a rep­u­ta­tion as an artist. “In my last DoD job, I landed a com­mis­sion to carve a huge sand sculp­ture at a mall,” he says. “I was try­ing to fig­ure out how to ask for two weeks off so I could do this carv­ing, when I was called into my boss’s-boss’s-boss’s of­fice ex­pect­ing to give a re­port on my project, but was laid off in­stead. That solved my prob­lem of how to get the time off that I needed,” he says with a chuckle.

But it was no laugh­ing mat­ter. It was ex­actly the push Justin needed to pur­sue art full time, and he never looked back.

In ad­di­tion to sand and wood, he started carv­ing snow and ice sculp­tures for New Eng­land ski re­sorts. At one sand-carv­ing job in New York, he met a fel­low artist who did chain­saw carv­ings with ex­tremely fine de­tail and thought, “That’s for me.” He came home, bought a chain­saw and went to work. “Chain­saw carv­ing beats you up real quick,

though,” Justin says. “The vi­bra­tion tore up my arms, and it’s pretty dan­ger­ous. I still do it, but not as much as I used to.”

These days, Justin fo­cuses on fine-carv­ing pro­jects rang­ing from small fig­urines to elab­o­rate ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails like man­tels, balus­ters and tim­ber-frame em­bel­lish­ments. No wood species is off lim­its for Justin, but he does have his favorites, like wal­nut, ma­hogany and but­ter­nut. “Usu­ally, highly dec­o­ra­tive pieces are done in wal­nut or ma­hogany, but it’s re­ally about what­ever wood goes with the job,” he says. “But­ter­nut has a rich, golden color with darker grain lines that give it a very nice fin­ish. For my fig­ures, I use bass­wood. It’s con­sid­ered the ‘wood­carver’s wood’ be­cause it has such a fine grain you can get very de­tailed with it. Plus, it’s strong and easy to work with.”

That sounds a lot like Justin, him­self.

TOP: Justin Gor­don hand carves his sig­na­ture in­tri­cate de­tail on a drop-point finial out of Port Or­ford Cedar, a wood he im­ports to his Mas­sachusetts work­shop from Ore­gon.

OP­PO­SITE, TOP: The same drop-point finial in the photo above af­ter it was stained and in­stalled in its per­ma­nent home in a New Hamp­shire tim­ber-home kitchen.

LEFT: This fan­ci­ful 7-foot6-inch totem is carved from 10-inch di­am­e­ter yel­low pine. The fig­ures rep­re­sent a thun­der­bird (top), a raven and a bear with a fish.

FAR RIGHT: The amount of ex­pres­sion Justin is able to cap­ture in the faces he carves is re­mark­able. He makes the wood come alive with emo­tion.

RIGHT: Ti­tled “Ge­orge’s Tree,” Justin proudly stands be­side his ver­ti­cal take on Mount Rush­more. The totem looms tall at nearly 18 feet.

TOP & ABOVE: For his tree carv­ings, Justin roughs them out with a chain­saw while the stump is still in the ground, then adds the finer points. Once fin­ished, each piece, like this pineapple, is a land­scape show­stop­per.

ABOVE: Carved from pure ma­hogany, “Pierc­ing the Sun” takes its name from the story of Sagittarius shoot­ing an ar­row at the sun, sym­bol­iz­ing Pon­tius Pi­late’s sol­diers pierc­ing the side of Je­sus on the cross.

Justin is metic­u­lous in his quest for per­fec­tion, some­times carv­ing a tem­plate be­fore tack­ling the fin­ished job. This he­li­cal hand rail for a Bos­ton stair­case is a prime ex­am­ple. BELOW: In ad­di­tion to carv­ing pieces from his own imag­i­na­tion, Justin is in the clock restora­tion biz, re­plac­ing miss­ing dec­o­ra­tive parts with such pre­ci­sion, you’d never know it had been dam­aged.

ABOVE, LEFT AND RIGHT: Justin is quite ac­cus­tomed to cre­at­ing ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails to spe­cific ap­pli­ca­tion spec­i­fi­ca­tions, di­men­sions and artis­tic re­quire­ments. For some, com­plete plans are pro­vided. For oth­ers, the artis­tic val­ues and di­men­sional re­quire­ments are de­vel­oped through con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Justin and the builder and/or owner.

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