Around sixth grade, Dad recommended I get Mom something carved by Jon Rowan for her birthday.
So the next day at school I talked to Jon. He was carving a compact killer whale bowl that had a knot conveniently located where a whale’s blowhole would be. Jon was an experienced carver at this point, but the piece had a few small flaws. I told him the plan.
“Go down to J.T. Browns, pick up a wolf trap and we’ll trade.”
Dad had taken my brother and I trapping and I was familiar with mink and marten traps, so I figured, incorrectly, that a wolf trap would be comparable in price. It was far more expensive, but I felt proud that I had saved enough money to buy Mom something cool. (I think Dad probably chipped in).
Middle school is about the time young humans start to become young people. That is, a deeper sense of self and awareness starts to develop. Not fully, of course. Every year I have plenty of seniors who can’t decide what they want to do next year, let alone for a career.
But at some point, we start wrapping our heads around value, not just cost. What Jon Rowan carved had value. He turned pieces of wood into art. I couldn’t sell what I carved in class because my impatience, inexperience and lack of attention to detail often led to ovoids with sharp corners and V-shapes rather than U, but that’s where everyone starts – the beginning, when product value is low because the value is in experience rather than the product itself. Eventually, both compound.
The term value has much more meaning to me today and I rarely use it in terms of cost or price. The potential selling price for that killer whale bowl is irrelevant. There is a memory connected to it. It’s not something I bought at a store that was done by “some local artist.” Jon carved it.
It’s not hyperbole to state that there is profoundness in that fact. Maybe because he is one of those links to Dad. Whenever I visit Jon’s carving shed, he’ll often make a comment about my dad. Some little memory or connection and I bring up the deer call he carved for the staff Christmas party that Dad got and gave to me. I have used the call, but I can’t anymore. It’s too valuable to lose or break. It has value in the truest sense that has nothing to do with money.
As more time is put between me and my high school days, I think more about people who helped shaped me. I was a knucklehead and took a while to learn some lessons, but so much of what people like Jon told me and showed me either stuck with me or finally made sense.
The value Jon has brought to his community and kids like me is impossible to articulate. He produces a positive wake that impacts others the way many people wish they could, but are too caught up in talking rather than doing. In a world of virtue-signaling, hollow words and shallow symbolism, Jon Rowan has always been the real deal.
I learned from a master, not just how to carve, but something about how to live. Work hard. Be friendly. Master your art, but stay humble. People like Jon are not replicated. He is one of one and every time I look at the art my family collected over the years, I will think not only of the beauty of the work, but the quality of the man who made it.
Happy retirement, Jon. Thank you.
• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.