Lee Cross, also known to her
community as Wood-Splitter
Lee, has been creating spectacular works of art since she
was a kid. The 21-year-old Alaskan native and self-taught artist is best known
for her more than 400 handmade and super-realistic
animal creations. It all started when her parents encouraged her to submit her first
sculpture of a wolf to an art show (she ended up winning Best of Art). Since then, Lee's
works have traveled the world.
What are your inspirations for these posable artworks?
Since I grew up in Alaska, I saw animals every
day. We had swans on our lakes that would let me pet them because I was there
so often, and an eagle's nest outside my window. So I didn't just want them to
be sculptures, I wanted them to be more than pieces to be tabled and looked
at. That's really how it started for me to make something more unique and
So what does your process look like? Do you base your
creations off of animals that you see or even photos?
Each is handmade and I don't
use any molds. I sculpt each face onto a posable skeleton and wrap that
skeleton with stuffing. Then I put synthetic fur and hand-dyed fur onto the
body and the face individually. The eyes are white beads that I always hand
paint and gloss to bring it to life. When I first started, it took weeks and
weeks, but now that I've made over 400 creatures, it takes less long.
When I create an animal, I
find it best if I don't pull up any pictures or look at them because the
features that stand out more in my imagination will stand out the most when I
Your eBay weekly adoptions
can hit up to thousands of dollars now, did you even imagine that would happen
when you first started?
I had no idea that it
would take off the way it did. I just did it for my pleasure and it pretty much
happened overnight. It's become a worldwide must-have for just everybody, and I
never expected it to be this big. I recently sold a
baby unicorn for almost $5,000. I feel pretty blessed. I didn't work to
become good at anything — it just happened overnight, as well as the attention.
It's all natural talent! Is
this your main source of income?
Thankfully, I've never had
to work for anyone else in my life. I was running a business of sculptures when
I was 13 years old, and I stopped because I couldn't handle the eyes of the
world on me because I was just a kid! But I went back to it when I was 18.
Did you always gravitate toward sculpting?
I've tried painting, but to
see a flat image of, say, a wolf is not as exciting as something you can
actually hold in your hands. Especially when you're designing fantasy things,
[sculptures] are much more exciting to hold. It's like holding your imagination
in your hands.
You were recently in Korea
and were also invited to do some projects with Weta Workshop (a New Zealand-based special
effects and prop company for films like "Lord of the Rings," "Godzilla" and
"The Amazing Spider-Man 2"). Can you speak about these or any other
collaborations you've had?
When Weta Workshop
contacted me, I had no idea who they were. I had to look them up. Johnny
Fraser-Allen, one of the designers there, showed my work to the owner of Weta
Workshop, Richard Taylor. When he saw my work, they immediately asked me to
come to New Zealand for the workshop, and they invite me back every year. I'm
currently working on "The Wandering Woods," my first collaboration project, with
Johnny. We were invited to Korea to showcase it and I also took a whole bunch
of personal work with me. I've always wanted to go to China, and it looks
like I'm going there! That came about by Fred, I met him in Korea, and he's the
owner of the company Barbie. He just fell in love with my creatures.
Johnny is a sculptor too, so we
sculpted the characters for the story. I made my creatures and he made his work, and we photographed the characters that we made. The creatures are (in theory) made from the foliage and they are the forest. From the back, creatures would look like trees
and bushes, but from the front they look like animals and creatures. I made all of the animals and Johnny made all the tree people! It's
expected to be released next year.
What role did your parents play in your journey as an artist?
My parents have always been very supportive. Since this all happened really over night, they were speechless seeing their 13-year-old daughter naturally producing these and had an income bigger than they did! They have always been very proud!
One [memory] that really stands out is my dad, who was so supportive in what I was doing, he would drive to a place that would take hours and hours to get there just so I could have a look at certain animals that were known to be in the area. It would be an all-day trip to get there and back but it was always really touching to me that my dad would take a large amount of time out of his day just so I would get a little inspiration from the animals that we would see. I think my parents have always been my biggest fans.