Stone carver Sonny Grant

Arts profile

Posted: Thursday, January 06, 2000

Carving the emotions of animals: Juneau artist Sonny Grant uses hand tools to carve soapstone and marble, and his pieces range in size from a few ounces to 500 pounds.

Grant is a full-time artist, and his work is in two dozen galleries in Europe and up the West Coast of America. In Juneau his carvings are in Raven's Journey and the Mount Juneau Trading Post.

He works with traditional motifs, and bears and seals are favored subjects. In one stone carving, a half-dozen sea lions jostle for positions on a rocky island.

``I try to get the emotion of the animals. I was listening to sea lions one day, and I thought, `That's a real community, and they're communicating,''' he said.

Some background: Grant, 42, is of the Kaagwaantaan clan from the Chilkat Valley and was born and raised in Juneau. He is the great-grandson of master Chilkat blanket weaver Jenny Thlunaut, and he said she instilled an appreciation for art in him at a young age.

``I just watched her a lot, doing baskets, Chilkat blankets and beading. I was mostly observing how passionate about it she was. I loved art, but I wasn't really sure if I would be an artist. It grew on me,'' he said.

His grandfather Austin Hammond, a respected Southeast elder, and his father Edward Grant were storytellers, and their personal and traditional stories still serve as inspirations.

Former computer animator: Grant worked as a graphic artist, computer animator and printmaker in San Francisco for 12 years. He traveled extensively in Europe, making contacts with galleries and studying art. He returned to Juneau in the early 1990s and apprenticed with Eskimo carver and sculptor Simon Koonook. He spent the past three years working in Canada, and said his work really progressed there.

``I think my association with those Native artists in Canada was a catalyst for me, especially those who overcame serious obstacles in their lives. My eyes opened up to possibilities,'' he said. ``I felt a lot more free to create.''

Big pieces: Grant's largest works have been in the 200- to 500-pound range.

``One was a wolf sitting upright. At the same time it's a woman kneeling down. Kind of an abstract piece of marble. And a few rookeries of sea lions on rocks,'' he said. ``I plan to do more large works this spring out of marble, soapstone and alabaster.''

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