James Williams discusses ‘Cracked Frog,’ a meaningful accident in art

James Williams poses with his Cracked Frog sculpture. (Photo courtesy of James Williams)

James Williams poses with his Cracked Frog sculpture. (Photo courtesy of James Williams)

When James Williams was seven years old, his father gave him a pocketknife. With it, Williams carved a crude, inch-long canoe.

“He held it in his hand and said, ‘He’s going to be a carver someday,’” Williams said.

Williams, now 56, is a Tlingit master woodcarver and blacksmith.

“(My dad) foresaw this in me,” he said.

His piece “Cracked Frog” was commissioned by the Alaska Native Heritage Center last summer. Williams will be discussing the work Feb. 6 at the UAA Bookstore.

“Cracked Frog” is a large, frog-shaped bowl adorned with distinctive blue, red, black and white paint.

Rachel Epstein, bookstore special events coordinator, believes the piece has particular importance. “It brings Tlingit tradition, culture, and art into a contemporary setting,” she said.

Epstein learned about Cracked Frog almost accidentally.

“(Williams’ wife) Marie recently joined the Bookstore staff … I saw Cracked Frog on her desktop,” she said.

Carving the piece wasn’t easy for Williams.

The log he started carving with weighed 1,500 pounds. By the end, he had whittled it down to 400.

Before he could finish the piece, a problem arose.

“It was starting to crack,” Williams said. “I was frustrated to the point of heartbreak.”

One crack was so large, it threatened the work’s structural integrity. It was when he laid his head on the bowl’s rim that Williams remembered his mother.

“(My) mom used to broadcast all over the world on CB radio,” he said. “Her radio handle was ‘Cracked Frog.’”

After meeting with Ethan Petticrew, vice president of operations at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the work was officially named “Cracked Frog.”

“It was at that moment that I realized the crack had become the very embodiment of my mom’s CB handle name,” said Williams.

Matushka Emily, Williams’ mother, passed away in 2004, but through “Cracked Frog” she will be remembered for years to come.

The carving is on permanent display at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.


James Williams will be discussing “Cracked Frog,” the arts of woodcarving and blacksmithing, and his love for the crafts from 5-7 p.m. on Feb. 6 in the Bookstore. The event is free and open to the public.


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