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On Island Profile: Les Anderson

July 14, 2005 – Les Anderson's art continues to evolve. Long known for his oil pastels, watercolors and etchings, this St. John artist has now moved into sculpture.
"I've known I should do this since I was young, but sculpture didn't sell in the old days," he said.
Anderson, 60, has a long history in the territory's commercial art field. With little formal training other than six years of Saturday afternoon classes with St. Thomas artist, Tom St. Vincent Decoi, he's carved out a successful career that dates back decades.
And his storytelling abilities appear as well-developed as his artistic talent, as he details his life story, stopping here and there to interject sidebars about his early days in the Virgin Islands.
His art career moved though numerous incarnations but started when he and a former wife, Penny Poole, sold their artwork to tourists strolling the Charlotte Amalie waterfront.
While Anderson always had an artistic bent, he started out on a different path. After high school in Encino, Calif., he joined the U.S. Navy just in time for Vietnam. With training as a diesel mechanic engineer thanks to stints aboard a seaplane tender, he served on the Navy's Swift boats.
After his Navy discharge, he went to work as a refrigeration mechanic in Los Angeles, along the way picking up a degree in technical illustration and becoming a father to two girls, Lisa Marie and Theresa. Anderson proudly talked about Lisa Marie's modeling career, which included 20 years as a cover girl and a stint as Miss California. Anderson now has three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
As his children were growing, Anderson realized that the future for technical illustrators was in computer technology, not drawing.
"So I quit that," he said.
Meanwhile, his mother, Manette Bock, and her husband sailed off from California in their boat, ultimately ending up on St. John in the early 1960s. Anderson credits his mother, an artist who once worked for Walt Disney Studios, with passing along her artistic talent and with raising him and his brother single-handedly since his country music singer father, Les "Carrot Top" Anderson, had departed when he was still a baby.
Anderson's mother and her husband bought land on the island's East End from the George family "for $1,000 an acre," eventually building the first house in this part of the island.
Dissatisfied with life in California, Anderson soon hopped a plane for the Virgin Islands. It was the late 1960s, and he worked as a diesel mechanic at the old Antilles Boat Yard, where he started his lifelong love affair with boats. Buying a leaky 25-foot boat named Banshee for $450, he sailed here and there before he decided to build Penelope, his 38-foot wooden boat, at Hassel Island.
Of course, Anderson was living a barebones life, so he built the boat out of bits of this and some of that left behind by boaters who were moving up from wooden boats to fiberglass.
"I was able to get all the stuff for free. All I had to do was dismantle the wooden boats," he said, telling complicated tales about his early days in the Virgin Islands.
He and Poole went off to a six-year stint in St. Barths in the mid-1970s before returning to the Virgin Islands.
His life then took a few more twists and turns. He helped get the annual Foxy's Wooden Boat Regatta on Jost Van Dyke underway. Then Poole departed for the mainland, and Anderson and his next wife started building a house overlooking the ocean on what was once his mother's land. The house, reached by a stone path strewn with pieces of old ceramic, includes Anderson's studio.
That wife is also out of the picture now, but Anderson has a new love and is still hard at work creating his sculptures, dealing with the nuts and bolts of his note card business, and just enjoying life.
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