Gary working on the spring moon panel in his new workspace

We were happy the day we loaded Gary’s workbench—a table, really—onto the sled and brought it out from storage to the cabin. The addition is largely complete: the new closet and shelving have been in use for weeks, and the shower stands in its corner awaiting plumbing. That leaves just enough room for the workbench under the larger of two windows. It pleases me to see Gary reunited with his carving tools, coaxing a playful spring moon from a plank of Alaskan yellow cedar. Sometimes I stand quietly at his elbow as he redefines a shape or a shadow, his focus unwavering. When he comes away from his work I smell the wood’s sweet must clinging to his beard.

Gary at Art Explosion during Open Studios 2010. One of his earlier moon panels is hanging behind him. Credit: David Gartner Photography,

This is by no means the best workspace he’s had, but it’s not the worst. Gary started the spring moon panel—the fourth in a series—in San Francisco, where he carved full-time. When he first moved to the City he did his carving in a bland space at Art Explosion, a studio rental business on the outskirts of the Mission District. The place was as quiet as a library but, in general, not as friendly. Another artist working in wood tipped Gary off to better, cheaper space by Highway 101 at Cesar Chavez. It was one of a number of Connex units, a tin can quick to overheat in the sun and offering no relief from the din of the freeway, but more functional for practitioners of the noisier, dustier arts, inventors and artists working in wood and metal.

Box in Alaskan Yellow Cedar

Gary is a carver, not a craftsman or furniture maker. He can make lovely furniture, more rustic than refined, as well as other functional pieces, but when he does it’s often a platform for his love of carving. Gary’s first gift to me from his own hand was a large box, whose lid of Alaskan yellow cedar depicts a horse running free under the moon.

Gary and his ponies heading to grazing ground

He’d known from my first summer visit to Alaska that I loved horses. Gary had Swiss Haflingers then, beautiful palomino ponies, and we took them to graze at a pastoral swath of tundra. It wasn’t too far to walk, but we had horses! So we rode. I couldn’t mount even a pony bareback, though, so first Gary leaned low and offered his back as a footstool. We’d just met, really—this was in 2004—and I was horrified, self-conscious, and sure I would hurt him. He was sure I wouldn’t. I gingerly put my foot on my human step stool and settled myself as lightly as possible. I remember when we got to the pasture we staked only one of the four ponies; Gary explained that the small herd would stay together, safer with three unfettered horses free to respond to any threat by predators.

So Gary knew I loved horses, but he didn’t know I’m also drawn to beautiful boxes. He made the cedar box for me when he got back to Alaska after his cancer surgery in Portland.

One of Gary's Merangels

When I brought the box from San Francisco, inside I placed two “merangels” Gary had made, mermaid angels I bought from Gary a few years ago. They fly as gracefully over our table here as they did over our dining table in the City. When he was living in San Francisco, Gary was making a similar pair on commission. I came across a note he had written as a reminder to order “ruby nipples.” I was relieved to find out they were intended for the merangels.

Nesting ptarmigan bowl in birch burl

The winged mermaids came to Gary in a dream. Other ideas come from nature, such as an oblong “marriage bowl” with the head of a raven on one side and the head of a wolf on the other. Out here, we see from the presence of ravens where there might be a kill; ravens once led me to the backbone of a caribou, which we hung as a bird feeder in our yard. Wolves watch the ravens, too, and provide meat for the birds that help them hunt. A bowl Gary made from birch burl, a nesting ptarmigan, went to my cousin Glenn and his bride, Terri, who got married last month. Glenn’s sister, Joan, asked Gary to make her a remembrance using part of the mane of her beloved horse, Kenai, and he made a dance stick. The dance stick, masks, and moon series illustrate how much of Gary’s work is influenced by the art of aboriginal peoples along the Pacific “rim of fire.”

Masks and decorative lintel at Open Studios 2010

Though his workspace is less than ideal, cramped as it is between the closet and the shelving with only a smallish window, Gary once again has a workspace. I can’t wait to see what inspires him next and watch it emerge.

Note: More of Gary’s work can be seen at his Etsy shop at

Sunrise: 10:26 a.m.
3:40 p.m.
Snow and wind, low 5°, high 20°, snow and wind. A big change from -33° yesterday!