The School of Hardwood Knocks

Sculptor went around the world to come home

OIL AND WOOD DO MIX
Scott Kentner in his studio.
Photo by Karin Strickland

When Brevard artist Scott Kentner arrived in East Tennessee, at the age of seven, a new world opened up. “We moved from California,” Kentner says, “and I really took to the woods. It was the age of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett on TV.” 

It was, too, an environment that laid the foundations for Kentner’s future work as a wood sculptor, producing exquisite figurative and abstract pieces as well as utilitarian serving trays and furniture from the cedar, walnut, and cherry woods that surrounded him during those childhood years. 

The artist produces abstract and utilitarian pieces.
Photo by Karin Strickland

Much of his work uses recycled wood salvaged from boyhood neighbors, and it complements his talent for oil painting. “My painting’s been offline for a while, but I’m beginning to feel drawn to it again,” he remarks. “I’m looking forward to the speed and physical ease of painting, and to adding paint to my wood pieces.”

Though he’s shelved one medium for the other, the two modes of expression developed together. His mother gave him his first paint set when he was 10, at the same time he’d begun experimenting with balsa wood and an Exacto knife. “Those were boxy-looking owls,” Kentner remembers of his early wooden productions. “But my father and grandfather were both very adept with tools, and I picked up a lot from them. I’ve always been good with my hands.” 

Among many other motifs, Kentner specializes in equestrian-themed designs and also paints.
Photo by Karin Strickland

By the time he’d graduated from high school, Kentner’s attachment to woods, mountains, and traditional craft was hard set — so much so that, as a young man, he was drawn from the gentler looking, rounded Appalachians to the more dramatic Rockies.

Kentner moved to the Colorado Front Range to be among those high peaks. He found a job at the University of Wyoming and started in their BFA program. 

Over the years, he’s studied with landscape artist John Ford and with wood sculptor Sabiha Mujtaba, whose Chrysalis Woodworkers in Atlanta remains one of the Southeast’s most well-known sculpture studios. Ever restless, he enrolled in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, taking advantage of an international exchange program.

“Big change from Laramie, Wyoming,” he recalls. “But Hong Kong has mountains, too. And I learned a lot about brush control, line, and negative space.”

Still, it was his natural affinity for wood that drew Kentner back home and, last year, to Brevard, where he had often visited to indulge in his favorite sport, mountain biking. “I love the area and the people,” he says. Brevard has an added advantage in the presence of fellow woodworker and cyclist George Peterson, from whom Kentner leases studio space. “George is a great influence, both creatively and in his work ethic.”

Kentner still sources his wood from Tennessee, where he imports whole logs from two friends he played football with in high school. “They both have excellent knowledge of the land and keep an eye out for material I would like,” he says. His recycled lumber comes from another friend who has a reclaimed-wood flooring business. 

Sculpture by Scott Kentner.
Photo by Karin Strickland

These specimens find their way into Kentner’s functional trays and tables, some incorporating metal elements fabricated by a blacksmith friend, or, in a nod to the area’s equestrian heritage, horse shoes. Abstract and sculptural pieces emerge organically. “I draw figurative pieces, but not usually the nonfigurative work,” he explains. “The character of the wood always influences the design and outcome.”

Kentner’s work can be quite elaborate, like the side tables commissioned by Tennessee friends to complement their collection of highbrow art from all over the world, including an original by blown-glass celebrity Dale Chihuly, an Iranian silk rug, and a carved headboard that once belonged to an opium den in Southeast Asia. 

Kolkata Sisters
Photo by Karin Strickland

The side tables Kentner produced for those friends were crafted from lightning-struck walnut and took a year to design and sculpt in what was then Kentner’s first studio, in a converted garage with a gravel floor: “It was the most elaborate and refined piece I ever did, made in the crudest studio I ever had.”

Eight of Kentner’s abstract wood sculptures are included in this month’s “Summer Sizzle” exhibit at Tryon Painters and Sculptors. “They’re about the beauty and interest of the wood,” he says, “their reflections and contrasts. They’re unusual.”

Scott Kentner’s work is on view at Tryon Painters and Sculptors’ “Summer Sizzle Guest/Members” show Wednesday through Saturday, 11am-5pm, through Sept. 12 (78 North Trade St., Tryon, tryonpaintersandsculptors.com). For more information about the artist, e-mail sdkentner@gmail.com or visit sdkentner.com. 

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