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JACKSON NYAMAI -- February 13, 2013
Originally from the Eastern Kenyan town of Machakos, Jackson grew up in a family of wood carvers and started working in the business when he was a sixth grader. Jackson says he was too shy to ask his father to teach him to carve, but his father volunteered to teach him how to decorate carvings, and so he started helping out the family business by painting giraffes and lions and the like.
Jackson left school before high school because his family didn't have the money to pay for the fees. His father suggested that he go to stay with his cousin, another carver, to learn the family trade. Jackson's cousin took him in and started him carving teaspoons and other simple things. After three years of training, Jackson went to Nakuru, Kenya hoping to find a job with another carver. However, the demand for teaspoons and Jackson's other specialties was low, and the only work he could find was carving soapstone. Jackson took the work and taught himself to carve the large animals that his employer wanted.
For the next four years, Jackson worked for several employers, carving for whomever would hire him at the time. Finally, around the year 2000, Jackson and a group of carvers whom he was working with found a workshop that they could rent and decided to start a permanent business. Jackson's new position allowed him to go back to carving only wood, which he says he much prefers to soapstone because it doesn't break nearly as much.
Jackson's carvings are now sold widely within Kenya. Sometimes, if a friend in Mombassa or Nairobi gets a large order, Jackson will go to help fill it. Jackson also brings crafts to his friends in other cities for them to sell in their curios, and in exchange he brings their crafts to Nakuru. Thanks to Aina Moja, Jackson's is also known in the United States--a fact that Jackson says he's quite grateful for.
When asked where he gets his ideas for carvings, Jackson says that they just come automatically, sometimes quite subconsciously. "As you sleep, you can have a dream," he says. When he needs an idea, "it will come."
Jackson lost his wife of many years in 2012. As it was hard to work and have his children with him, he relocated them to schools in his homeland, Ukambani, Kenya where they stayed with his parents. He returned to Nakuru to continue the carving business to support his children. He was deeply sorrowed by the loss of his wife. Last Monday, he was admitted to the hospital. Today, Wednesday, he is gone.
Rest in Peace Jackson, we will all miss you.