Story by Bob White
Photographs courtesy of Eric Knowlton
Eric Knowlton is a multifaceted carver who creates works that are either highly realistic, interpretive or drawn from Northwest tribal-art influences.
Knowlton’s realistic work is highly finished and presented in a traditional manner in profile and pedestal displays. His interpretive work is rustic, often with natural finishes. His tribal art is a juxtaposition of totemic designs and highly refined realism. Knowlton’s combination of realism with totemic symbolism intrigues me and, in my opinion, separates him from other artists in the genre.
Knowlton’s ethnicity is a blend of First Nation (Pacific Northwest Coos) and early English settlers. His native ancestors, on his mother’s side, fished for salmon and lived a traditional life. His New World forebears, on his father’s side, were carpenters and woodworkers. Both sides of the family continue to live with a deep respect for the natural world.
As you might expect, Knowlton’s connection to nature is deep, and he feels most alive when in the environs of wild fish. “When I am on the river,” Knowlton said, “I can’t wait to get back to the studio to recreate the beautiful scenes and fish I’ve experienced. When I’m in the studio, I long to wander a stream.”
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Browns, brookies, rainbows and salmon . . . Knowlton’s love of fishing allows him to depict all of them accurately.
Knowlton’s family moved to Alaska from Oregon in the early 1980s when he was in his early teens. As a young man, Knowlton grew to love Alaska, and he continues to draw inspiration from the state’s vast and wild expanses and, of course, its fly-fishing, which he can find near his home in Wasilla.
While he loves Alaska, The Great Land presents very real challenges for a working artist, particularly a sculptor whose options for showings are limited and whose works are not easily reproduced or transported.
While international and out-of-state shows are economic challenges for Knowlton, demand for his carvings reaches beyond Alaska and now includes collectors worldwide.
In March 2016, following a series of surgeries, Knowlton suffered a serious stroke. Since then his ability to work without rest for more than a few minutes has been his greatest challenge. “The first thing I asked for after my stroke was for some of my roughed-out trout carvings,” he said. “I knew that if I could hold them, they’d help me heal.”
Knowlton is currently in therapy and hopes to rebuild stamina and regain full capacity. Each day he carves, Knowlton grows stronger. While he hopes to fully recover, at this time he’s turning away commissions while his wife, Heidi, sells existing pieces.