Petersburg Pilot -

New Artist in Town

 

Jess Field / Petersburg Pilot

Jon Pust stands behind a table filled with soapstone bears and other creations currently on display at Miele Gallery.

Jon Pust comes from a family filled with musicians and artists, including a couple of cousins who are "topnotch painters."

Pust used to work construction and drove some truck, but after he taught himself how to carve soapstone and alabaster into wildlife it suddenly became his career. After seeing some soapstone carvings with his wife Dawn, she challenged Pust to try his hand at the craft.

"At first I thought she was nuts, but she finally talked me into trying it and I made three or four pieces that turned out," he says. "I didn't know if they were good or not good."

The couple moved to Fairbanks in 1984, and ended up selling the first pieces after the prospect of finding a construction job during tough times, failed to pan out. Pust was surprised at the response his work received, but ecstatic at the possibility of turning it into cash and that's how his career as a full-time artist took off.

The couple moved to Petersburg in November and Pust enjoyed a steady stream of visitors at Miele Gallery last Friday checking out his carvings. Pust's no stranger to the local gallery, he's been selling his work in Petersburg for 20 years. He regularly came to town once a year, but then he started coming here multiple times each year because he liked the place. His wife liked the idea of living in Southeast over the interior, with its cold winters and overwhelming mosquitoes.

Pust says probably about 90 percent of his work is purchased by tourists visiting the state and he mainly works with soapstone. His work is very representative of Alaska and he's become known for his bear carvings spending about 90 percent of his time creating them.

"I enjoy the challenge; bears are a little harder to do," Pust says. "I think a lot of other artists struggle to make a really good bear."

For Pust, his art is all about continuing to push his limits and challenging himself to do better, referring to himself as, "my own worst critic." One of the most interesting things about sandstone is that the color of the piece isn't revealed until it's finished, much like the path of an artist. Pust has a strong desire to get back into fossil whale bone carving,

something he got away

from doing years ago, and is thinking about starting to work with jade.

"There really isn't an Alaskan artist that's doing it right now," Pust says. "There are probably about four or five Canadian artists that are doing really high end jade pieces and I am kind of fascinated with it."

With jade, everything is diamond water cooled, and it would take a considerable investment but it's an option.

Pust may still have his commercial driver's license, but he won't be giving up working with his hands or a truck driving job anytime soon. He and his wife are enjoying their time on Mitkof Island. The couple is acclimating well to the comforts of small-town living.

"I didn't really want to be in a tourist town," Pust says. "We just love it here. Petersburg is beautiful."

 

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