Penticton artist Jordan Straker showing off some of his work in his shop.

Penticton artist Jordan Straker showing off some of his work in his shop.

Penticton artist carving his own path

Jordan Straker's incredibly life-like wood carvings have won plenty of awards and briefly got him in hot water

  • Oct. 2, 2014 10:00 a.m.

Scott Trudeau

Special to the Western News

A Penticton man’s penchant for carving was revealed after he received a tool from his brother as a present in 1990.

“I had a bad hand injury and my brother bought me a dremel for Christmas, as therapy for the hand injury,” said Jordan Straker. “That was the beginning of my carving. I’d never used a Dremel. I had no interest in wood carving.”

Straker also had no art training, formal or otherwise, but believed his artistic abilities must have been intrinsic and waiting to be discovered.

“My first carving, I won best in show at a local carving show, and I said, ‘OK, this is where I need to be,’” he said with a laugh. “I made headstones, but I was not really an artistic person, I thought. I just designed headstones.”

Without any artistic training, Straker said he had no concept of dimensions or proportions and believes he was simply blessed with the patience and attention to detail required for this type of art.

On average, he invests about 14 hours a day working on one of his pieces.

“I have one here that I’m working on, it’s got 60,000 of those little beads on them, and I’ve re-painted them three times each,” he said, before laughing and adding, “It’s got to be a little bit of insanity, you know because I don’t have to, I want to.”

When people see his work, they’re struck by the realism every piece of art conveys.

Straker uses wood to carve native-style shirts and dresses, moccasins, as well as western-style guns and holsters. and with everything from the beads, to the feathers and texturing, he’s able to make the objects appear as leather to the naked eye.

One of his gun-and-holster carvings was removed from a popular sales website for violating its no weapons policy, but was later re-instated when the company realized its error.

In his native pieces, Straker uses no historical references or photos as he’s working on them, but yet he’s had people from different tribes approach him and remark on the authenticity of his art.

“I just put my hands around the wood, and I just make it up,” he said. “I actually won’t look at pictures because I’m afraid that something might sneak into my subconscious that I don’t want to.”

He started selling his wood pieces about 10 years ago and about two years ago, he began carving gourds, which are dried fruits that come from California, have a hard outer shell and a texture similar to wood.

“I started carving the gourds because the wood carvings cost so much money,” said Straker, noting his gourd carvings require about a month of work, whereas the wood carvings take three to four months.

He recently moved to Penticton from Calgary, where he’d lived for many years.  His art has been on display at the Downtown Community Market.

During his career, Straker’s work has received hundreds of carving awards, including best new artist, and multiple wins for best in show, collector’s choice and artist’s choice awards at the Calgary Stampede Western Art Auction.

Accolades aside, Straker said he’s appreciative of what he’s been given and added that he’s got no choice but to continue.

“I really do say it’s a gift; I don’t wear it on my chest as a badge,” he said. “It’s really just something that I have to do.”