John Abduljaami

In a West Oakland lot at 2205 Magnolia, just off West Grand, sculpture artist John Abduljaami lets the wood be his guide. He’s there almost every day working from 9am to 5pm. Sometimes he sees a bird. Other times it’s a dog, a cowboy on horseback, a rat or a walrus. “Then I start drawing with the chainsaw,” Abduljaami tells Spark.

Abduljaami’s fascination with wood began when he was a child. Living in a makeshift home that he describes as a shanty, Abduljaami’s family depended on a wood-burning stove and heater for cooking and warmth. His father regularly toted wood home at the end of the day. By the time Abduljaami was 11, he was sneaking the family’s best butcher knife to carve his figures, much to his mother’s consternation. Later, Abduljaami had a job cutting wood, which was where he learned how to use a chainsaw.

“A chainsaw is like getting on a jet plane — something that would normally take three or four days to get there, and you get there with seven or eight minutes with a chainsaw,” Abduljaami says of his primary tool.

A prolific artist who dreams of building a legacy through the wood sculptures he leaves behind, Abduljaami estimates he has produced 500 pieces thus far. If he had his druthers, he would produce a new piece each day. Along with a chainsaw, he uses such tools as an adze, a hammer and a chisel. He often turns to photographs and images of his subjects to guide him while he carves, cuts and shapes the wood before him. While some pieces are delicately rendered birds and jackalopes, others — like his 2,600-pound walrus complete with wrinkly, cracked skin — are much larger in scale. Carving the two-ton walrus meant starting with a 3,500-pound chunk of wood that had to be moved with a forklift.

Pulling distinct figures from anonymous chunks of wood may not yield fame and fortune for John Abduljaami during his lifetime, but being remembered years from now is much more important to this artist. He says, “I want to be here more than 100 years. That is why I am doing all this wood sculpturing, so my name will be here — although I am poor and broke and don’t have anything, I will be one of the rich people then because my name will be in books somewhere.”

Abduljaami’s work can be seen by appointment by calling (510) 967-8816.

John Abduljaami 19 January,2016Spark
  • Array

Related Episodes

West Oakland

Meet a range of artists who call West Oakland their home.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor