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Area Voices: Akeley woodcarver still experimenting after 30 years

A wood carving covered with wood shavings and a couple carving tools.
Photo illustration
Images contributed by Paul Albright
A relief carving work in progress by Paul Albright, an Akeley woodcarver pictured here.

Woodcarver Paul Albright joined “Area Voices” to talk about being a sculptor, and how he got interested in sculpting in the first place.

AKELEY — Sculptor Paul Albright was drawn to sculpting at a young age.

“I think I was about 5 years old ... and they gave us a choice between Little Golden Books, when my mom had leftover money from grocery shopping, or I could buy clay. And I went to the plasticine clay. Every time.”

Albright isn’t sure how he made the leap into larger wooden pieces.

“I guess I followed my tools to an extent,” Albright said. “I still like the feeling or the relationship I guess in scale to a larger piece, just a personal preference I think.”

His sculptures can be of all sizes, large or small. Albright said he is more relaxed with larger sculptures, but relief carvings are what he enjoys most. Relief carvings have figures or patterns carved onto a flat piece of wood.

Favorite tools and resources

The tools Albright uses range from chain saws, chisels, mallets to sanders, grinders and pneumatic tools. He also enjoys hand carving but said it can be taxing on the body. Albright makes his own tools as well, which he said comes from growing up working on the family farm.

A photo portrait of Paul Albright wearing a hat and glasses and blue jacket.
Paul Albright
Wood sculptor Paul Albright who joined "Area Voices."

It isn’t just about the tools though. Albright has his favorite woods to work with, too. He recommends white cedar for outdoor pieces, because it has natural ingredients resistant to bugs and rot. But his favorite wood to work with is butternut, a cousin to black walnut.

“Just smells nice and it's friendly and has a nice look to it,” he said.

Albright said he experiments with his carving, which for him, is part of the creative process.

“You make a mistake, or you notice something that stands out and you go, 'OK, I'd like to try that or and see what happens here. And one thing leads to the other, and all of a sudden, you're coming up with something ... you've never seen it before.' ”

Finding an ending

One difference Albright noted between art forms is that sculpting doesn’t produce immediate change, like in painting. It can be up to 10 steps before a change is visible in a sculpture, and he said it's important to have a strong idea of what you want it to look like.

“As far as knowing when it's done ... you have to consider that about 1 out of every 3 of them fail,” Albright said. “And it's easy to overwork something, too. So, you kind of have to listen to yourself on that or your subconscious, whatever. And then there are many steps once you decided, 'OK, that's the end.'”

Work on display

A few different sculpture walks feature Albright's art, including outdoor exhibits in Bemidji, Delano and Park Rapids. He teaches classes through a new wood shop, Cedar Swan in Nevis, featuring wood products from local artisans. Albright’s work can also be found on his Instagram page.

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Area Voices is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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