Giving form and function to found objects; Local handcrafter to be featured on Hidden Studios Art Tour
By Kris Rued-Clark
PORTAGE COUNTY – Family vacations at the cottage in Wisconsin’s northwoods gave Paul Klein inspiration for a lifetime. As a boy, he was fascinated by the rocks he collected and the shapes he saw in wood, particularly the burls he found.
“I didn’t know what to do with them when I picked them up, but I was intrigued,” he recalls.
In college, he studied environmental education and natural resources. Although he worked in a few parks, he did not relish the idea of being a park ranger.
While on a trip after graduation, Paul came across a wood sculptor in western Australia and spent five months with him as an informal apprentice.
“He was self-taught, a farmer turned artist,” explains Paul. “Over there, they picked roots and stumps out of farm fields like we pick out rocks. He found interesting shapes in the wood he picked up and started sculpting.”
With that introduction to sculpture, Paul evolved into making more functional pieces and now creates sculptural lighting.
“I like making functional things. That’s the part of my art I feel best about. My goal is that each piece should stand aloneas an interesting piece of sculpture. The lighting is a bonus,” says Paul.
It took several years before he was able to devote himself fulltime to his art. After he and his wife Beth married, they bought an old farm near Amherst Junction. When their children were young, Paul worked in construction, primarily as a cabinet maker and as a finish carpenter, honing his skills in working with wood. However, the artistic impulses called to him.
“I became tired of working with squares and straight lines,” he notes.
By the year 2000, Paul was able to devote more time to his art. He travels to regional art shows, about eight to 10 per year, and also sells his work through galleries in Door County, Madison, and California’s Napa Valley. He enjoys attending art shows, to meet people and share ideas.
The name for his studio accurately reflects the work he does: New Hope in Wood. “I like taking nature’s work and showing it off a little bit,” explains Paul. With an old barn converted into a woodworking shop and studio, the family’s property lies on the New Hope segment of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. He collects glacial stones that have been rubbed smooth by the actions of the ice. Building on a base of stone, wood is the focal point, “the soul of each piece. I think it’s got the most personality, the most potential,” says Paul. “Sometimes I start with the rock, sometimes I start with the wood. Sometimes I start with a square block of wood.”
He takes pride in using local, natural wood.A block of wood attached to a rock, after many, many hours, eventually achieves the look he wants – the wood appears to have grown out of the rock.His pieces may evoke a fun day at the beach, stacking rocks, or hiking on the trail.
When exhibiting at art fairs, the two most common questions he hears are, “Where is Amherst Junction?” and, “Do you make your own shades?”
Originally, Paul did not make his own shades. However, “It was hard to find lampshades with character,” and he began making the paper for his shades.
The primary material is kozo, a type of mulberry tree, which was used for paper for over 3,000 years.
“It’s quite easy to process, has long, strong fibers, and you can hand-beat the fibers without having to use nasty chemicals to break it down,” explains Paul.
He adds straw for texture and other objects he may find, such as bits of paper wasp nests. His main focus is the wood, yet he also enjoys making the shades.
“I drag my feet until I need more paper, but once I get into it, I really enjoy it.I’m still learning, and it is fun,” he explained.
Paul makes paper three times a year, including during the Hidden Studios Tour, when he demonstrates the art of papermaking and invites visitors to try their hand at it. His is one of the original studios featured on the Hidden Studios Tour—Art along the Ice Age Trail, held the first weekend in October to showcase the fall colors of central Wisconsin’s rolling countryside. Visitors are invited to explore up to ten working studios and see how and where the artists create. Guest artists and fine crafts people augment the weekend, with demonstrations ranging from stone carving to glass-blowing. The focus of the weekend is to educate, to share the process and demystify the life of an artist.
This year’s Hidden Studios Art Tour takes place Oct. 4- 6. For studio locations visit www.hiddenstudiosarttour.com.