TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Kevin Cragg started lathe-turning in high school shop class.
Now he uses the same lathe he learned on to produce wooden birds with the look of polished folk art.
Cragg and his wife, Beth, own Junction Trade, an Etsy shop that took flight in 2013 after Kevin lost his business management job, the Traverse City Record-Eagle (https://bit.ly/1EvqooA ) reported.
“We’ve always been bird lovers and loved working with wood and just have always worked really well together on projects that we’ve done,” said Beth Cragg, 47, adding that the couple built two houses together and renovated a third. “So he did not go back to work. We decided we just wanted to have the flexibility to work from home, use our creativity. We wanted to use our own talent to live off.”
The Michigan natives moved from Minnesota to Traverse City 16 years ago to be closer to family. They created their first birds for family reunion “auctions,” in which family members bring and bid on items to raise money for charity.
“Originally we had seen some similar online someone had created from recycled materials,” said Beth Cragg, who has a background in graphic design and photography. “We use 50 or more different exotic and local woods. We wanted to try segmenting.”
With just one older child left at home, the couple decided to turn their house and garage into a shop, using the old lathe Kevin Cragg’s father rescued from the high school. Then they established an online store with a variety of turned items including what they call their “designer birds” - birds that don’t have a particular purpose. They followed up with a handful of fall craft shows and used customer feedback to refine their art.
“We could see the birds were popular so we said let’s forget the other stuff and just do the birds,” Kevin Cragg said. “Even though it’s been not even a year, we can’t believe how far they’ve come. In the beginning they were cute and had personality and people loved them, but now they’re more detailed.”
They’re also designed with a function in mind.
“Often people would say, ‘Are these salt and pepper shakers?’ so earlier this year the birds evolved into ceiling fan pulls, wine bottle stoppers, magnets, ornaments and keychain charms,” Beth Cragg said.
The plump birds are species all their own, each with its own character created by drilled eyes, gently tapered dowel beaks and segmented woods of different grains and colors.
“How they’re segmented creates faces or wings,” Beth Cragg said. “People like to see the different personalities.”
The couple stock up on several kinds of wood, including “stacks and stacks” of American walnut Kevin Cragg’s mother bought at a garage sale in Florida and his brother hauled to Traverse City. Favorites are spalted maple, bloodwood, Australian cypress and chenchen.
All are left in their natural color - from black to yellow to rose - and finished with three coats of spray-on lacquer.
“What most people see is a contrast in color,” said Kevin Cragg, 52. “They’re surprised there’s wood that color. They can’t believe we haven’t dyed or stained or painted it.”
The couple made their Dennos Museum Center debut at the recent Holiday Art Fair, where the birds attracted everyone from woodworking men to women on a gift-buying mission.
“They sold a lot,” said museum store manager Terry Tarnow, who introduces several new artists at the popular fair each year.
Now the couple are preparing for their biggest show yet: the One of a Kind Show and Sale in Chicago, Dec. 4-7, where an estimated 65,000 visitors will shop for handmade items from more than 600 artists.
“Gearing up for this, Kevin tries to turn 12 to 14 birds a day,” said Beth Cragg, who does the finish work. “We hope to have 1,000 pieces ready for that show.”
Giving wing to their creativity and flying solo as self-employed artists has paid off in a satisfying lifestyle, the couple said.
“It’s been a fun journey. We’re certainly enjoying life and doing well,” Kevin Cragg said.
Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, https://www.record-eagle.com
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