can see where you’re going,” he said. “From
there it’s a matter of rounding the corners
to turn it into a three-dimensional object.”
The length of time required to complete a carving depends on both the
size and detail desired in the finished
product. If it’s going to be what Jordan
calls a “slick” – a smooth figure without
individual feathers carved – he can usually carve and paint it in about three days.
“But to do the same bird in the same pose
and have it highly decorated with every
feather carved and all the details, that
could take me two months,” he said.
This past winter and spring Jordan
focused on the completion of a life-sized,
short-eared owl that he entered into the
Ward World Carving Championships. It
placed third best in show in the master
division, but took first place at several
other competitions. Rarely, though, does
he get this opportunity to carve something of his choice, as most of his work is
done on commission or as part of carving
classes he teaches.
He spends about half of his time teaching – either week-long classes of up to a
dozen people or one-on-one sessions that
can last as long as two weeks. He typically
polls the class members to determine what
species they want to carve, and he carves
the same bird right alongside them in order
to demonstrate each step of the process.
One of his most popular carving classes
takes place annually in Lake Placid, New
York, and 80 percent of the students return
year after year. Recent class carving projects have included carving a miniature
great horned owl and a life-sized merlin.
Jordan also regularly instructs a group
from Canada that visits his studio for two
days every month. They’re currently working on a screech owl. He is also finishing
a red-tailed hawk, which is the basis of a
book he is writing about bird carving.
In addition to his work in the class-
room and in his studio in Rochester, New
York, Jordan frequently serves as a judge
at carving competitions and exhibits his
work at shows around the Northeast, all
of which builds word-of-mouth about his
artwork and helps to market his carvings.
Years of carving and banding birds
has yet to satisfy his interest in raptors, so
Jordan has also become a master falconer.
He owns three hawks that he takes out to
fly and hunt every day during the falconry
season. He says the intimate relationship
he has developed with his birds is compli-
cated. “For the bird, the relationship is all
about food. They don’t care about you or
love you or miss you. But I view it like any
other pet owner, even though they’re not
pets. I have a strong bond with them, and
the feeling I get when they’re in action in
the wild is really unbelievable.”
Although Jordan said that his time
banding hawks along Lake Ontario helped
him to learn about bird anatomy, which
improved his carvings, he admits that his
falconry has played an even greater role.
“My carving is vastly improved since I
became a falconer, mostly because I have
birds in hand constantly and I can pick up
nuances within feather groups and I can
translate that to my carvings, even when
I’m not carving raptors,” he said. “But,
ultimately, my passion is for all things
birds – carving them, looking at films of
them, painting them, it doesn’t matter. I
have a passion for the animal.”
More of Al Jordan’s carvings can be seen
online at www.ajordanbirds.com.
Todd McLeish is an author and natural history writer. His
most recent book is entitled Norwhals: Arctic Whales in
a Melting World.
Al Jordan with one of his creations, a lifelike Cooper’s