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The Race: Kurt Swanson

Samantha Kraemer

Kurt Swanson, a wood artist and hobbyist, created an art piece that caught our eye not too long ago. Three beautifully crafted full-size wooden Sting-Rays, framed by a photo of a young boy riding his own Sting-Ray in the background. We caught up with Kurt, who entered ArtPrize 2015 for this Schwinn inspired art piece in the three-dimensional category. At the event, he competed against over 1500 artists, finishing in the top twenty overall and 4th in the 3-dimensional category.

The following is our interview with Kurt just days before his 4th place finish.

Kurt, you have quite a portfolio of woodworking items. Is woodworking your full-time job?

Kurt: No, it is more of a hobby for me. My background is in tool and die, so I work on a computer all day. It is kind of ironic actually that my work is metal by day and wood at night.

I started woodworking in High School and then began buying my own tools and started building things on my own. Eventually, I got to a point where I started making mission style furniture at my home. A lot of my projects have been getting progressively harder as I go because I like to challenge myself.

Can you walk us through the process of creating these full-size wooden Sting-Rays that you entered at ArtPrize 2015?

Kurt: I started with the tires and the rims first. I used a round jig and then I would cut strips of wood and wrap it around and glue it up until I got the right thickness. Then I would use my tools to shape the wood to get the roundness of the tire.

The frames, well, that was almost like a regular bike. I would build each of the strips to make the frame and then bend them to the shape they needed to be and glue them up together. For the seats, I had glued several pieces of wood together and would take my band saw and cut away the part that I didn’t need, so it wasn’t round yet but had the shape of a real bike seat. Then I did a lot of hand shaving to make the seats look right.

I actually got to use some of my tools and die experience for the chains by making a punch and die set in order to stamp out each of the individual links to make the chains with.

Wow, that sounds like a lot of work.

Kurt: Yeah it was, for every feature of the bike there was an individual challenge to how to make it look like that with wood.

How long did it take you to make one bike?

Kurt: I did them simultaneously because I knew I wanted to have them ready by the art show. I have about four hundred hours put into all three of them.

Oh my goodness!

Can you explain the concept behind the title of your art piece?

Kurt: I had a green Schwinn Sting-Ray when I was a kid, which I loved. My two brothers also had Sting-Rays, so when I did the bikes the colors I used were the colors we had for our bikes. The picture in the background is me on my Sting-Ray when I was about ten. My grandfather, who was a professional photographer, took that shot and gave me the 8x10 a few weeks later.

It was my wife’s idea to use that picture as a backdrop.

Can you explain more about your own feeling of biking as a kid?

Kurt: Well, everything during our childhood revolved around the bikes. They were part of the games we played, it was our transportation if we wanted to go somewhere; it was part of our identity. It was just always there. You were never that far from your bike. It was wild.

Now after talking to people at the ArtPrize show, I am finding that people around my age have that common memory and we have that bond. Very similar stories from person to person, so it is just amazing that connection we had to our bikes.

Do you think that the youth today are experiencing that same kind of connection?

Kurt: I’m not really sure, my wife and I don’t have children of our own, but I did talk to a couple of people who said they kept their old Sting-Ray and Schwinn bikes in the garage and that their kids and grandkids love riding those bikes when they come over.

Do you continue to bike now as an adult?

Kurt: Oh yeah, I do a lot of biking, which is kind of the reason I wanted to do this project with the Sting-Rays.

Do you get the same feeling you had as a kid now?

Kurt: Yes. It is a feeling of freedom, escape, and independence, all of those and also a big feeling of joy as well.

For adults who left biking in their childhood, how can they get back on the bike and rediscover those feelings they had in their youth?

Kurt: My advice would be not to worry about getting a number of miles. Just go and enjoy the bike and the feeling of riding. Go when you feel like going and don’t make it a chore. Most of us have jobs, we don’t need another job when we come home and biking is supposed to be fun.

To see more of Kurt's work visit his website here and check out his official ArtPrize page here.

Schwinn History

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