Alex Buderer is a wood sculptor – at least that is what he would like to be called. However, when you meet and get to know Alex, his artwork and his life are ingrained together as much as the strata in a piece of beautiful hardword, making it equally hard to define Alex or even to separate one from the other. Walking about the compound where Alex creates his work is equally daunting because Alex has been making varieties of wood sculpture for years. Getting the tour will literally blow you away.
Alex is a strong burly type of man, much like someone you would expect to see rummaging through wood piles to gather pieces of wood to craft his art. But sitting and talking with Alex, you get to see someone very different. As one listens to him speak about his work it becomes a fascinating mix of spiritual musing and technical descriptions. Blend all of this together and you begin to understand how his passion for life mixes with his love for wood to create such beauty and art.
I went to visit Alex recently and sat down in the workshop where Alex is working on his most recent passion: making crosses, small wooden crosses made out nearly 30 different species of wood that he has collected from a plethora of sites. I told Alex that I would like to interview him about how he got started making crosses. Before we begin Alex reaches over and picks up a small wooden cross and hands it to me, on it he has written “Let go and let God.” I suspect that the message is as much for him as it is for me.
Jimmie: Alex how did you get started making crosses?
Alex: Well, the first cross that I ever made was in 1962 for my Grandmother. I made a 8′ cross for her grave. Later in 1981, my dog got hit by a car, and I made a cross to put on his grave. It is still there in my friend’s backyard in New York. Later that same year, my Mother passed away and I made a cross and put it on her grave and it is still there. It has her name engraved in it. The one for my Grandmother, well it is gone.
Jimmie: So what else were you doing at that time?
Alex: I have been working with wood in some capacity all my adult life.
Jimmie: It seems you continue to gravitate back to the crosses, what made you decide to primarily focus your effort in that way now?
Alex: You are right, I am focusing almost all my energy in making crosses. I can’t say exactly where this is coming from, but I am making a lot of crosses these days, and I truthfully I enjoy every minute that I work on them. I come here at night and work for hours, just making crosses. I seem to be getting some sort of inner message that this is the right thing to be doing.
Jimmie: What got you started this time . . . after all these years and you have obviously done lots of, might I say, more impressive pieces.
Alex: You’re right, I have definitely done what I like to call “ego pieces”. I can’t say exactly, but I will try to explain how I think this got started. It began in 2005. A very good friend of mine suddenly died after he and I had just spent some time together the evening before. You know, it was one of those sudden deaths that catches everyone by surprise. Well, I made a “mourning cross” for his widow, who is also a good friend. The process of making a “mourning cross” for someone, to symbolize the experience of death, got to be quite a challenge. Actually, I ended up collaborating with another artist from Eureka Springs, looking for the right color, textures and just making sure that the cross would be appropriate. After I finally got one made that I felt comfortable with, I gave several other members of his family one as well. That got me started thinking about my own mortality and that is what I believe got me focused on making crosses.
There are other factors involved in Alex’s decision to pursue the crosses. He called a “spiritual advisor” that he has known for many years – a Catholic Nun – who told Alex if he “feels confident and is not hurting himself financially, then it may be his Mission”. He also consulted his local Catholic priest who told Alex “What’s the problem, there are worse things you could be doing.”
Big vs. Small, David & Goliath
I keep going back to the big pieces, the ones that capture your eye when you walk into a room. Alex has created many pieces that certainly do that. In 2003, Alex was accepted to show his work in the prestigious Western Design Conference in Cody, WY. Talk about “big “! This is where the top builders in the country show their work. “I never dreamed I would be accepted.” Yet Alex was accepted and, not only that, named one of the top five builders in the country. John Gallis told Alex, “[You] should sell [your] piece for $10,000.” “I had it priced at $5000.00.” It easily sold. Alex looks around the shop and says without hesitation, “I have $10,000.00 worth of furniture sitting here ready to go.”
“There have been very special people in my life that I have given my crosses to, and later found out that these gifts became very special “tokens.” One woman called him just after her husband died and asked Alex if she should place the cross that Alex had made for him in the casket or keep it because it bore such deep meaning to her husband. Alex clearly was moved by this. She decided to keep it.
Alex then showed me some of the wood that he is presently using to make crosses. He pulled out an 8″ wooden leg from a table and he points out to the grain running in the wood. He explains to me how he is making very small crosses from this piece of broken furniture. There are specialty woods that he occasionally buys for crosses, such as Tree of Life wood (lignum vitae), but Alex says he would prefer using the “special” wood someone held in their hands and turn that into a cross . . . or giving a blind friend one of his crosses so that he can feel the textures and smell the aroma of a piece of redwood simply by lightly sanding or rubbing it.
Alex explains that he gets great pleasure in taking things that are discarded and finding the beauty inside. Alex has a genuine fascination with recycling, whether it is wood or some old piece of metal that he can use in sculpture. He tells me that some people look at his property and wonder why he doesn’t clean it up. He looks around and sees “treasure”. It is during this conversation that Alex quotes a famous poem: What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies with in us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The only poem I know in my life,” Alex tells me.
You can truly sense the divine connection when Alex describes taking the rotted wood or junk wood – “some pieces not even worth the wood burning pile” – and bringing it back to his studio and, before long, have it looking like a “fine piece of art”. Alex then pulls out a cross from one of his many piles and says, “I got this maple from a farm. It was a rotted out tree laying on the ground. That was 6 weeks ago. Look at it now – it is the most beautiful piece of wood I ever came across.” The way Alex describes this process exemplifies a true master at work. “I love taking the damaged pieces and finding the beauty within the piece”.
I asked Alex to explain some of the crosses that he makes when all of the family is not of the same religion.
“I call them a family cross or family star of David. I take pictures of the piece of wood, and see how the pattern is laid out along the spalt line, which is the black line running through the tree. I cut the crosses out; then if I get two crosses out of it, it would be called a book match. I would flip it over and they would have the mother and father and all of the children made from the same piece of wood or if the father and mother were Jewish and one of children turned out to be Jewish and one turned out to be Christian, I would cut the pieces appropriately.”
So, by using the same piece of wood Alex can maintain each individuals religious idenity within the family in a very unique and symbolic way.
There is a quote from a forum called UCS on the Internet that says:
“So many different lifestyles, so many different temporal opinions held, ideas and ideals cherished, and yet each one of these individuals is telling us the same thing –– this is One World, we are all One Humanity, and the health and future of our collective Being depends on us recognizing and living this Universal Truth.”
Alex is making this concept a reality when he uses something so inherently symbolic to man’s existence as the wood of a tree to symbolize the “different temporal opinion” held even within one family. I asked Alex how many crosses he thinks he has ready right now to sell. Remember Alex is cutting each of these crosses by hand. Alex said, “Well, if you want them in the rough, not sanded, I have made about 15,000. When I asked him how many have been through the rigorous sanding (5 phases each – done by hand) . . .then on to the equally complex stages of hand oiling, he says almost mumbling, “maybe 1000”. Yes, they are small, touched by an artist’s joyful love and energy, then sent out to do their work. God’s little soldiers.
It starts to become very apparent that Alex is serious about making this cross business go. The large beautiful piece of work that he has “sitting ready to go” However, 15,000 crosses will be able to reach 15,000 people. Alex is truly spreading the love that he has for his art in a way that can reach the spiritual hearts of thousands of men, women, and children.
One of the contemporary artists that has influenced Alex’s philosophy is George Nakashima, who wrote The Soul of a Tree. Like Nakashima, Alex has a deep respect for trees that is apparent in the work he does. Alex is able to capture interesting patterns in the wood grain and express his art in a God-given way. Another contemporary artist that has influenced Alex is Louise Nevelson. I asked him what it was about her art that impacted him. He said it wasn’t so much her art as it was her strong sense of determination. He said, “she never gave up”.
Here are few examples of the work Alex does….
Written by Jimmie Hays and Edited by Diana Clark. circa 2006. Shell Knob, MO
I got a note from Alex today on facebook, he mention this above interview I did with him and thankfully I still had it saved on my computer. I am trying to gather a few more photos of his work and at least one of him. I enjoyed my time living in Missouri, I met some wonderful people living in that part of the United States, I will always cherish my time spent living and growing there. Alex, I hope you read this part, and thank you for letting me interview you, it was a real honor getting to know you better and seeing the work you do. Your cup runneth over my friend, God has truly blessed you and I am so much better person having known you.