Work by more than 100 Artisans inside new Carmel more

New Albany
2D Woodburning
Kurt Huntley

If this was a typical artist’s story, it would tell of persistence, practice, patience, and perfecting a unique genre that today results in exceptional work. But Kurt says the only thing he burned was his twin brother’s ear.

Kurt Huntley’s grandmother gave him woodburner when he was eight and, if this was a typical artist’s story it would tell of persistence, practice, patience, and perfecting a unique genre that today results in exceptional work. But Kurt says the only thing he burned with it was his twin brother’s ear.

His mom took the woodburner, and months later she gave it back. He found a piece of wood and created his first masterpiece. “I thought I was burning a picture of a horse,” he said, “but everyone said it was a really great dog, so it became a dog,” said the artist whose life seems to have revolved around flexibility.

“I would pick up the pen and work diligently for a few months, and then I would get tired and put it away. My art didn’t really take hold for a few years,” he said. In middle school, he discovered girls liked boys who were artists. “I couldn’t find my burning tool by then,” he said, “but I saved up until I could get another one. I burned pictures of my favorite things. The girls hated them, but all of a sudden I fit in with the boys. My art began to define who I was, and I liked that,” says the artist who now is approaching retirement from his career as an economics professor.

Throughout high school and college, he developed his craft. “I created images about the war in Viet Nam, and with that I learned art can evoke emotions,” he said. “People from both sides of the war/antiwar movement saw my work as telling their own stories.”

On a trip to Gatlinburg, Kurt saw a man woodburning pictures of barns and wildlife. “The work was unbelievable,” he said. “Each piece compelled me into the scene. I was amazed as he effortlessly glided the woodburning pen across the grain and turned plain pieces of wood into love stories.”

The man became Kurt’s mentor, and over the next two years the duo spent a lot of time together. “He helped me develop my photo-realism and make images look like sepia tone photographs,” he said. “He taught me about negative space and negative light, and how subtle changes in shading produce changes people feel more than they see.”

Kurt became an artist in his own right and started selling his work in his mentor’s store. He participated in shows with him, and Kurt says the experiences taught him what made a great artist. “I was grief stricken to learn he unexpectedly passed after one of our shows,” Kurt said. “His wife closed the store, and I left the craft and part of my heart behind.”

When he picked it up again years later, Kurt describes his work as “mostly soulless. “I didn’t enjoy it, and people didn’t buy it,” he said. “I put my tool away again and started my real life.” Twenty years later, he again found his woodburner in a drawer, plugged it in, found a nice piece of wood, and began creating work for fun and friends. “I burned what I wanted to burn, not what I thought I could sell, and the joy was back,” he said.

“I burned images of old cars, gas stations, drive-ins, but I wasn’t just burning, I was creating nostalgia. It was amazing to me; that’s what people had wanted all along. They didn’t want a picture of a deer in the woods. They wanted to be reminded of that time as a boy when they saw a deer in the woods,” he said. “They didn’t care about a frying pan on a stove, they wanted to remember grandma’s kitchen and to feel things they had forgotten.”

From then on, Kurt says he never created an image that didn’t have a story. “It had to have heart. It had to speak to me first, and then I knew it would speak to others,” he said. It certainly spoke to the Indiana Artisan jury panel.

Kurt’s philosophy fits well with Indiana heritage, and he says, “There is so much history, so much of that down home, back on the farm, goin’ to church, cookin’ with grandma type of goodness that permeates the soul and psyche of Hoosiers. That simple lifestyle serves as the backdrop for my art, which brings a wholesome, peaceful, joyful flavor to my images.”

With retirement from his economics career approaching, Kurt says he is embarking on “a new and exciting chapter in my life. My art has been latent for years, and as an emerging artist, I hope to reignite the spirit in my own soul and introduce this art form to a new generation. Through Indiana Artisan I know I will be expanding my marketing opportunities, allowing me to share my passion with art lovers across the state.

“Picking up my pen after all these years feels like I am coming back alive, like I’m coming back home again, but this time, it is ‘Back Home Again In Indiana,’” he said.

His did turn out to be a story of persistence, practice, patience, and perfecting a unique genre that today results in exceptional work.