If you drove through South Tahoe Park several weeks ago, you may have seen a masked man wielding a chain saw in the morning sunshine. No, it wasn’t a horror-show nightmare, but a very affable wood sculptor named Adam Bradley, applying his craft to an 8-foot-tall log in his front yard. Eight years ago, after a high-school internship, Bradley decided that a wood-sculpting apprenticeship would be his alternative to college. Now on his own, he works on privately commissioned projects from around the country.
What is it about wood that draws you to it as a medium?
One of the things that’s really unique about wood is the grain. … You have to work with the grain in order to have strength in your piece. … I have to design the piece in order for it to maintain its strength and structural integrity so that it’ll last for years to come. … What’s neat about it is as the wood expands and contracts, as the wood dries, it naturally cracks. … A lot of the work I do is outdoors. So, as the rains come, the wood swells, and as it dries, it shrinks again. This characteristic can only be found in wood. It’s one of the dynamics of wood that you don’t see in any other medium.
Tell me about the totem project.
I’ve been practicing Native American ceremony for almost 10 years. My adopted mom is Choctaw. She taught my brother and me about the native way. … As I was designing it with my client, he gave me a couple of parameters. He said he wanted an eagle, and he also said that he had some Native American artifacts that he found on the property. So, he was interested in something kind of on the native side. So, I designed the piece with the eagle flying in, just landing on the pinnacle. And something drew me to the medicine wheel. … That became the theme of this piece. The medicine wheel is a sacred hoop split into four sections representing the four directions. In native teachings, it was how they would pass the knowledge of life … to their children. The four directions are represented by a different totem animal. Buffalo in the north, eagle in the east, coyote in the south and bear in the west.
So, I designed the piece with that in mind. The eagle is the pinnacle, at the top. Buffalo in the north is birth … as you go east, it’s about adolescence or what you need to learn about adolescence in life. So, at the pinnacle of this piece, we’re talking about adolescence. And to me, this is a spiritual representation of our adolescence as a human race. That’s a pretty big concept, but it’s a dynamic that I think that we’re at, that we’re at this turning point where we’re moving, we’re evolving beyond our adolescence. The eagle is at its peak, and soon it will be coyote in the south where we come to our adulthood. And, as you move around to the west, to the elder … and then back to creator in the north, the buffalo. … This piece really represents our time right here and now as humanity sits; we kind of sit in our adolescence, and we’re learning our way.
My purpose of this piece has been to share this experience with the community. I started it with the intent of sharing it with people … so they could enjoy the process and be inspired … hopefully come out and introduce themselves and talk about it … give people a reason to come out and communicate with each other.
That’s why you worked in your front yard instead of a studio?
That is why. … I happen to live on a little corner in the neighborhood that has a stop sign. So, everybody stops at the corner, and they get to see it as they go by. I wasn’t sure what the response would be, but it ended up being just a tremendous positive response from the whole community. From people driving by and just giving me the thumbs up to people stopping and introducing themselves, telling me how happy they were to see this happening.
Through my apprenticeship, I focused on human statuary, animal statuary, some relief carving. That’s been tremendous. It’s been an opportunity for me to learn from nature—nature’s proportions and really trying to access realism. I’d like to explore some other areas … get into more symbolism and also some more dynamic form. … I want to really try and capture some new movement in my work. And then integrate not only my realism but also some abstraction.
If you weren’t a wood sculptor, what would you be?
I’d be an inventor. Because I have a passion for new ideas. I have a passion for developing things that I haven’t seen and think would be really great to have. … I’d be tearing apart this dishwasher that I found that has a great pump on it, and I’d be using that pump in some kind of contraption. … Just pulling working parts off of machines and then integrating them and creating new mechanisms.