Craftsman Creates Furniture as Art: "Along the Way"

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There's a Black Hills man who makes furniture as art.
He puts as much creative energy crafting his pieces-- as a sculptor uses shaping his clay.

So how does furniture become art?

In this story, we go "Along the Way" with a man who's spent more than 2 decades creating furniture with a twist.

(We hear the sound of feet walking up a gravel path.)

The view from Eric Sutton's hillside workshop in Piedmont is mesmerizing...much like the art he creates inside it.

Furniture Artist Eric Sutton says, "So I'll fill the cracks and then ground it all down smooth and then start putting a tongue oil finish on it."

(We hear Eric using a sander.)

And what begins in a sawdust covered shop in Piedmont eventually becomes functional art like this little table with steel legs shaped to look like wood and mahogany feet, intended to look like a bonsai tree.

Furniture Artist Eric Sutton says "You know like a wind blown mountain tree growing on the side of the cliff somewhere."

We saw his work when it was temporarily displayed at the new Haycamp Brewery building. The furniture is no longer there, but it is still for sale.
As a painter uses a palette of colors: Sutton brushes with a pallette of ingredients: like this chair built of wood textured by worm holes, legs bent to follow the direction of the wood grain, deer antlers, bison leather, and symbolism.

Sutton says, "It's a turtle, Here's the head, here's the 4 legs, and the tail."

Sutton has been serious about furniture art for more than 20 years here in the Hills, and like any other artisan, creativity has no speed limit.

"These pieces I intentionally did not keep track of the time. I have no idea how much time I put into these. These, like these in particular were specifically for art shows, " says Sutton.

Rather than a preconcieved notion of what he'll make, the ingredients help determine their own destiny.

"And I can chip the shape a little but ya know, but I start out with the rock that with different fractures in it gives it direction on where to go and build stuff around the material rather than the material around everything else," Sutton says.

(We hear the sound of Eric cutting wood.)

This table: a classic example.

Eric Sutton says, "There was a gorgeous chunk of mesquite and it was laying in a pile to be chipped up so I grabbed it and it took me about 2 years to figure out what to do with it."

Mesquite salvaged from a scrap pile in Arizona, set to be chipped into smoke chips for barbecuing, becomes the base of a masterpiece.

Sutton says, "I kind of had this design in my head that I wanted to build a table that looked like it wouldn't stand up. It looked like it would tip over."

He says the top is Colorado Sandstone from the Flat Irons near Boulder, Colorado, a rock climbing area with family significance. And the column bridging the mesquite and rock is made of steel.

"You know nothing in nature is real linear regular shaped so I just started cutting chunks out and welding pieces on and forging it changing the shape," Sutton says.

While his art is constantly different: his philosophy is constantly the same.

Eric Sutton says, "I do things well. I'm not gonna bother otherwise. I mean why bother doing things if you're not going to do them well be proud of em?"

Each piece has a story, like the table that looks like it shouldn't stand, but does:

(We hear the sound of a saw blade cutting wood.)

Sutton's story is using traditional power tools, to create non traditional furniture: designed to mesmerize, just like the view from the artist's workshop where he makes it.

He calls his business "Behind the Times Furniture",in part because he builds his art to last, with quality, just like the old times.
If you're interested in learning more about his work, you can find it on his website behindthetimesfurniture.com.

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call us or e-mail me at stevel@blackhillsfox.com to let me know.