Crossing the country for a paycheck: Wood artist hits the road
Earlier this month Kendall artist Peter Czuk was in Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park, building his booth for the KIA Art Fair. Czuk will repeat this setting-up process at many other art fairs this year from Washington and California to the East Coast. He says it’s a way to get his work in front of potential customers.
“There’s a lot of people that go to shows to buy American craft," he says. "It’s an opportunity for them to meet the artist that built the piece and have this bond with them. And, there’s people who collect fine furniture. It’s not what you could get in any other way.”
But, Czuk says traveling to art fairs can be hard on an artist. He relies on help from his family with the challenges of unloading and setting up, working the long show hours, and then tearing down and reloading what didn’t sell at the end of each fair.
“Doing this for yourself,” he says, “I mean you have to do the business end, that’s a whole different mindset. You have to apply to the shows and all that. Then you have to set up store all around the country and hopefully have enough energy to deal with the public when the time comes. And, the weather. There’s a lot of variables.”
The hustle and bustle of an art fair is in complete contrast with Czuk’s usual routine. In the tiny village of Kendall, just west of Gobles, along the Kal-Haven Trail, he has a studio and warehouse full of wood, tons of ash, walnut, cherry and redwood, in pieces of every size. He favors wood with character.
“A concentration of heavy grain, a lot of eyes in there, a lot of pattern," says Czuk. "You’ll get some with a little bit of bark and sometimes the bare skin is interesting.”
One of Czuk’s friends owns a saw mill and keeps an eye out for the more unusual chunks of wood that can be made into art.
“He comes across an interesting piece of wood and he says that looks like a Pete Czuk log,” says Czuk.
One of those 'Pete Czuk' logs has become a bench, put together with careful attention to details in the wood grain.
“I air dry these pieces and let them cup and bend the way they want," Czuk says. "I like to keep that form in there, it adds structural strength and a sculptural look to it.”
Czuk has designed a shelving system that combines artistic flair with interchangeable pieces. He uses the internet to trade ideas with customers. It’s a tool that lets Czuk spend more time in his workspace creating, and less time traveling to art fairs.
“I’m going more and more in that direction because I don’t want to do thirteen shows a year forever,” he says.