From wood, bone and antler, Mel Anderson creates distinctive sculptures and ornate knives.He works in wood, antler, marble, alabaster, shoulder blades of bulls and bison. Anderson says, “Shoulder blades are the most difﬁcult to carve. Most people would think that marble or alabaster would be hardest to carve. Ivory is soft. Scrimshaw on abalone is also very difﬁcult.”
He wears a mask any time he works with any material that comes from an animal because ivory, shell, bone, even some tropical woods such as zebra wood, paduk, ebony, and iron wood can be very toxic and can damage the lungs.
Anderson said, “Paduk and another wood, pink ivory, are difﬁcult to obtain. African natives own the trees and are allowed to cut a limited number of board feet a year, making these exotic woods quite expensive.”
He purchases materials from well established companies in the United States who provide documentation on how their items were obtained and sold. Buyers must always be aware of black market trade and purchase restricted items from reliable dealers.”
His wife Marilyn noted, “In one instance, this happened at a show, a government undercover agent was attempting to sell a sperm whale tooth and some ivory to the dealers at the booths. We knew it was against the law to have a sperm whale tooth. A jail sentence would result.”
She added, “Ivory can be legally purchased with the proper documentation. Most people believe that it is illegal to purchase ivory, it is not.
“Many people think that the elephant is diminishing in Africa. Not true. Tribes have learned that it is better to keep the animal alive than to kill it. They now anesthetize the elephant, cut off the tusks and the tusks grow back to be harvested again and again. Natives are more concerned with poachers killing the elephants for the ivory.”
Anderson worked as an engraver for Alembic, an electric guitar company in Santa Rosa, Calif. They made the ﬁnest electric bass guitars in the world. The founder of the company was the originator of the Grateful Dead. They came to Mel, asking if he did scrimshaw and could he decorate a mother of pearl arrow with engraved feathers for the faceplate of a guitar. He accomplished that and continued to engrave designs for famous musicians including Glen Campbell. Those guitars he had worked on can now be found throughout the world — some are worth $25,000 to $50,000.
He learned scrimshaw from one of the best engravers in the world, Beuno Steele. He later branched out to other materials and methods from there.
His mother was an artist. She, a cousin, and an uncle encouraged and helped him with his early attempts at painting. Now, he prefers sculpting and carving items with more dimensions. He recalled doing some whittling and carving with a pocket knife when he was a teenager, His ﬁrst carvings were pipe bowls, made on order.
Anderson collected drift wood, ﬁnding the twisted worn shapes represented forms easily adapted to wood sculptures. One thing led to another, even carving belt buckles, lamp bases and aspen doors.
When he moved to Colorado, Anderson began carving bone, using shoulder blades provided by Cedaredge Meats and from a bison ranch in Montrose. These provide interesting materials for dimensional carving while recycling otherwise discarded bones.
He has entered his work in shows for many years including a one-man show in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Other showings were held at the Santa Fe Regional Art Show, Sculpture In the Park’s International Invitational in Loveland, locally at Munson’s Main Street Gallery, the AppleShed, and Cedars Edge Art Show, as well as many others throughout the West. His work is not on display at the present time.
His works have also been featured in Wildlife Art Magazine and their sculpture magazine, Sporting Classics, Sculpture Forum and other magazines.
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At present he prefers working in stone, marble and alabaster using hand tools and power tools. His work has slowed a bit due to his health but Anderson has been asked to show again at the Loveland Invitational this year.