April 30 – CHEYENNE – Townspeople still don’t seem to understand what Curt Theobald does for a living.
“It’s a big thing, and it’s hard to believe,” Theobald said in a phone conversation this week with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “A lot of people in the Pine Bluffs community know that ‘Curt works with wood,’ but no more than that, no. It’s hard to describe.
“I made this piece of wood. I glued 700 pieces of wood together and then I’m going to sell it for $15,000. It just doesn’t make sense in the farming and ranching community of Pine Bluffs.”
Rest assured, there are plenty of people who understand his work. They live all over the world, including Ireland, France, New Zealand and England. But from May 13 to April 2, the public will be able to see his work in a new location – in our nation’s Capitol.
Theobald, a contemporary wood artist living in Pine Bluffs, recently had his 2013 work, titled “Eye of the Storm,” purchased by collectors at the Smithsonian Institute from another private collector. It will now be featured at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery as part of their new exhibition, “This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World.”
And that’s not his only honor.
For the opening exhibition, Theobald was one of 12 artists invited to Washington, DC, to interact with attendees during the exhibition. Out of more than 170 pieces, he was chosen to represent the medium of woodworking with his sculpture.
“There are a lot of wood artists they could have chosen from,” he said with a laugh. “Did they put the names on a big revolving board and throw a dart at it?”
It is a labor-intensive medium, which carves and sculpts wood. Theobald spent many years running a cabinetmaking business, putting his skills into practice, which is probably why the neighbors are confused about what he does in the store all day.
But while he was running a business, he waited for those six weeks off so he could work on his craft. This is what allowed him to express himself, after a life of manual work.
“My dad is the farmer – our farm just turned into a century-old farm – and his deal is that if you don’t have three hours of work at eight in the morning, you’re a slacker,” Theobald said.
Theobald told his father a few years ago that he would fly to England to teach woodturning.
“His question was, ‘How much does it cost?’ I said, ‘No, dad, they’re paying for me to come.’ It just doesn’t make sense to someone who used to till the soil.”
He can thank his dad for one thing, and it instills a work ethic in him. What kept Theobald Woodturning was the drive to solve problems and create something new. The times when he realizes he can’t do something are often his favorites.
This is the case with “Eye of the Storm”, an intricate woodwork that gives the illusion of a spinning cyclone.
From the elevation of Pine Bluffs, he can watch over the prairie the early morning storm clouds rolling in in the distance. He sees the hues of blue and purple build over a vast landscape.
The scene reminded him of a hurricane, the eye of the storm motionless in the middle. The circular piece is intended to replace that of the “pinwheel” effect of a hurricane, as Theobald calls it.
He doesn’t know how long it took to complete “Eye of the Storm”; he doesn’t pay much attention to the time. Judging by the intricacies of his Smithsonian article, it took a lot of patience to perfect.
“I’m no more patient than anyone else waiting at that traffic light to turn green, but everyone has patience for their passion,” Theobald said. “If flying kites is your passion, you’re going to go there every day for the satisfaction of flying that kite.
“When I do my work, patience flows into passion. It’s absorbing. The world tends to fade away when you make a work of art.”
Beyond that, he doesn’t know what inspires him to design a piece of wood a certain way. He always draws his work, but as he gets absorbed in the process different ideas come up and he takes risks.
Sometimes, before the sun comes up, he wakes up at 2 a.m. with an idea. There is no rhyme or reason as to when inspiration strikes.
Despite years of work and practice, turning wood and working in other mediums such as glasswork, it is difficult for Theobald to understand that his work will remain in one of the most prestigious art museums in the world. .
There’s one person he wants to thank above all else, and that’s his wife, Wendy. While he works in the store, she keeps things afloat with her daily job as a teacher.
“It’s nothing new, but behind every successful artist there’s a successful spouse,” Theobald said. “It’s not that my wife has loads of money – she’s a teacher, so she’s getting by – but the success is that she believes in me that I can do it.”
Will Carpenter is the arts and entertainment/reports reporter for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 307-633-3135. Follow him on Twitter @will_carp_.