Hands That Make

Thursday, July 07, 2016

I picked up my first spoon from Made By Human Studios a little over a year ago. Since then, owner Josh Knutson and I have bumped into each other at several local events and discussed getting together for some studio photos. I arrived at at his home studio on an extremely hot June afternoon. It was a great afternoon with Josh, his wife Caitlin, and their sweet dog, Amos. We discussed his creative process, the impact of mentors, and why an old Christmas tree just had to travel with them to their new home.

Explain a bit about why you chose the name Made By Human Studios and the range of goods you sell. Made By Human Studios is a nod towards my own personal aesthetic philosophy. The objects that I create--be it a spoon, a cup, or a large sculpture--are a part of a dialogue between maker and the material itself. I want to see that conversation in the end work. I want to watch the conversation as it takes place in chisel marks and knife cuts. This is why I leave the tool marks on so many of my pieces. They are there to show you that a person has been here and left a mark. Each facet on the back of a spoon reminds me of little fingerprints. My work is undeniably human and it seeks not to glorify the material, but to showcase the marks we leave behind.

Where is your wood sourced from? All of my wood comes from local sources. I pick up tree stumps all over town off of curbs when the tree surgeons take them down or a storm takes them out. Sometimes people contact me and I come by and pick some up or (if I'm really lucky) they'll drop some off for me at the house. I also have a very generous furniture maker friend who has gifted me a lot of his large cutoffs

How exactly did you get started? Did anyone influence your work along the way?
I started carving sculptures in my early twenties, seven or eight years ago. Three years ago, I started carving smaller works, first spoons, then expanding to bowls, cups, and boards. This all started when I went to an open house at the Hot Shops Art Center and met sculptor Robert Dewaele. I loved his work and we just started talking. He invited me down the following weekend to give him a hand. I helped him load an enormous chunk of cherry wood onto an old bench he had repurposed for carving and he drew a shape in sidewalk chalk onto the bark. He did the same on the opposite end of the log, and then handed me a chisel and a mallet. We worked on opposite sides of the wood, removing the negative space. I had no idea what the piece we were working on would look like when it was complete. Bob just drew what needed to be removed and I did my best to comply. We worked all day and when it was time to call it, I had to literally peel my fingers off of the mallet, they had cramped so badly! I loved it! Robert has been an incredible influence on me. I never would have started this without his encouragement. I borrowed his tools for years, he gave me wood and let me work in his space. Having my own space now, I can’t imagine doing that for someone. The guy is just an amazing human being and artist.

Did you have a mentor? I have been blessed with incredible mentors. Robert Dewaele (who I mentioned earlier) got me started and is a great friend to this day. Therman Statom is another amazing guy. I was lucky enough to work and learn from him for a number of years. I don’t even know where to start explaining his influence. I learned so much. I learned how to weld and build with sheet glass. I was given opportunities to see things and be a part of projects that expanded what I thought was possible, from me as a person and from art as a whole. Therman has been someone who pushes me to grow in every way. I wouldn’t be who I am without the influence and guidance of both of these guys.

Did you enjoy working a lot with your hands when you were younger? I’ve always made things. Tree houses, forts, power ranger battle axes from two by fours and plywood (better believe I won that battle). When I was in high school I worked for a contractor doing small remodel jobs.

Tell me about the moment when you realized you should start selling your work? When I started carving spoons, I just got completely obsessed. I have carved hundreds and hundreds of them at this point. Many (many, many, many) of them were absolutely terrible, but through lots of work I began to develop my own style and designs. After awhile, I even liked some of them. I looked around and didn’t see anyone doing work like I was, so I just put it out there. I started a Facebook page and then Instagram. I was more curious than looking to sell work. I did a few small shows and sold enough to get me thinking that maybe there was something there. The aha moment came after a friend asked me to do a small show with her and a few other local makers. First, I was completely dumbfounded that she would want my work next to hers and the others there. It was such an honor and an incredible confidence boost for me. My work sold incredibly well. I just couldn’t believe it. It was a total turning point for me and I resolved afterwards to really give this a shot.

You currently don't operate your business full time and talked about working on becoming an EMT. How do you divide your time between the two things? I don’t operate the business full time, but I am heading in that direction. It’s been incredibly encouraging how much it has grown in such a short time. Made By Human Studios has been a business for less than two years. As to how I divide my time: I just go. I work on spoons at night and sculptures in the evenings and on weekends. There are 168 hours each week and I don’t sleep a whole lot. I may have work and school, but to be honest we all can do a lot more than we think we can. There are people who work full time and go to medical school and there are people who are “too busy” with a part-time job to make it to community college classes. I’m just trying to be closer to the first than the latter. I love what I do, my work is who I am, so I make time.

What are your thoughts on the maker/craftsman movement? Why do you think people have a renewed interest in handmade goods? It’s such an exciting time! I think people have become disillusioned with a lot of what is supposed to make them happy, but inevitably just digs a bigger hole to be filled with more bullshit. Everything is automated, everything is immediate. But human beings want community and we want to take pride in the things that we have and we want stories. When something is made by hand it always has a story. The material itself has a story. The maker has their story, as well as their process, materials, and tools. And you have your own story about the work you purchased. Markets provide a built in community. They make people leave their homes and interact with each other!

What's your most favorite piece you have created so far? What do you want to attempt that you haven't yet? I don’t know that I have a favorite piece; I have so much work to do though, there is so much that I want to attempt. I am starting to turn more and really curious about turning large vessels, as well as creating hand carved enormous vessels. I am very interested in pushing the scale of my sculptural work.

During my visit, you mentioned more than once about working on pieces and then putting them down, some for short periods of time, some for years. Explain a bit about the difference in process between creating one of your functional pieces vs one of your sculptures. Yes, I wouldn’t choose to work this way, it drives me crazy, but it is how it has always been. I do draw and I start with a very general sense of what I want, but then I let it go and work one shape to the next. Sometimes I can go all the way through, I know what comes next, but often I work and then have to wait until I can see exactly what it is supposed to be. It is a very intuitive process. Spoons, bowls, etc., are quite the opposite. I draw them out and work them to a finish, almost always in a single session.

I pointed out how passionate you are about your sculptures during our visit. What are some of the challenges with creating and selling these larger pieces? The challenges of working at the scale I am interested in currently is a logistical one. The wood itself is incredibly heavy and difficult to move. It can be difficult to find logs large enough. I haven’t shown my sculptural work often, but I have an interest in doing so. I would like to do a show sometime over the winter and am looking into different options now.

And finally, one of the pieces you showed me was a spoon with a lot of significance for you and your wife, Caitlin. A year ago this past winter we got engaged. I asked Caitlin to marry me after we set up our first Christmas tree together. I kept the tree up until June and then finally took it into the garage. Caitlin thought I was nuts, and when we moved into our current home the tree came with us. This past Christmas (we are married now) I cut all the branches from the trunk and carved it into a medium sized serving spoon. I gave the spoon and a hand carved pine bowl to her as a Christmas present.

Website: http://www.madebyhumanstudios.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/made_by_human_studios/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/madebyhumanstudios/


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