I first became aware of Curt Fuller when we both spent time on the Sawmill Creek and Woodturner’s Resource forums.  Curt and I were frequent participants on those sites and even exchanged boxes during a turning swap several years ago.  Over the years I have watched and enjoyed Curt’s growth as a turner and artist and it is my pleasure to have the honor of interviewing and profiling Curt Fuller.  Curt did most of the writing and about all I had to do was present it to the Woodturners Unlimited moderators for publishing.

When I contacted Curt and asked about the possibility of doing a Behind the Art article Curt’s response was, Unlike some of the turners that have been featured with interesting lives and wonderful shops I just drive a cement truck every day and work out of a very small corner of my garage. And that's about it for me. But if you guys persist and insist I'll gladly answer your questions. But I give you fair warning, don't expect much. My life is pretty dull.”

We’ll get back to Curt’s assessment of his life and wood turning later on. 

Curt said he was born in a one room cabin.  I fully expected him to next tell me that he made his living splitting rails but fortunately his propensity for tall tales ended with the cabin reference. Curt was born in Ogden, Utah in a hospital on a fall day in 1952.  He stresses that his birthday is on September 29 if any of the readers want to send him a birthday present.  (He will be happy to provide an address.)

He was a cute baby wouldn’t you say? 

Curt’s early childhood was spent in a section of Ogden called Sullivan’s Hollow.  It was a great place for Curt as a kid as it had a stream and patches of woods that provided opportunities for his childhood adventures.  Unfortunately that same stream was the source of some wild flash floods that eventually forced his family to move to higher ground.

At the age of 14 Curt’s family moved to North Ogden which is a completely separate town from Ogden (not just the northern part of Ogden).  Curt continues to live there today.

North Ogden is situated at the base of Ben Lomond peak.  A town of about 15000, North Ogden is primarily a farming community with many cherry orchards. The community still celebrates Cherry Days on July 4th although few of the orchards survive.

 

North Ogden is situated in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains and is a great place to live.  Curt spent a lot of time in his youth hiking, hunting, fishing and riding motorcycles in the beautiful countryside and mountains that were just minutes away from his back door.  Participation in those activities instilled his love of the outdoors which continues to this day.

Curt showed an early interest in wood and in particular enjoyed many hours with his Tinkertoys from which he continues to gain inspiration for his insect boxes and decorative pieces.

 

Here Curt is on his dad’s horse with it ready for one of his dad’s deer hunting trips.

 


 

 

 

 

Of course a boy can’t be a cowboy all the time and Curt showed an early interest in four wheeled modes of transportation.  Here he is with his first car, a 1957 Ford Custom 300 with a 272ci V8 and 3-speed on the column.  Curt is the shorter guy in the picture and he did not get this car of his dreams until he was able to drive and his dad bought it for his first set of wheels.

 

Curt didn’t start driving until he was in high school at Weber High School. He got a job between his junior and senior years as a “bugger”.  (I know some of you are shaking your head but that’s what he said, a “bugger”.)  In this job he sprayed lodge pole pines in the Targhee National Forest for the United States Forest Service. All of this spraying was a futile attempt to control the pine beetles devastating the forests in eastern Idaho. At 15 this job afforded Curt the opportunity to get away from home during summer vacation, live in a tent in the mountains, eat questionable foods, and saturate himself on a daily basis with a mixture of diesel fuel and highly carcinogenic insecticides.  So now you know what a bugger is. 

 

This job taught him a couple of valuable lessons.  First, work equaled money and more work equaled more money.  Secondly, Curt loved the feeling of independence that being on his own provided.  After that he had a difficult time wanting to live under his parent’s roof again.

When he returned to school his senior year Curt met the love of his life, Holly.  So with a pocket full of money from his summer job; a sense of independence; a confidence in his own abilities and most importantly a good woman to love, Curt never looked back at his childhood again.

After high school his parents wanted him to become an accountant or a doctor so they packed his bags and sent him off to college.  After a couple of semesters Curt determined that college was not for him.  He dropped out of college and sought new adventures.

Being of prime age for the Selective Service during the Viet Nam war Curt did what he thought was best to dodge the draft and avoid the adventures that the government might have in mind for him.  He joined the Utah National Guard and became a weekend warrior.  The Army sent him off to Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Fort Sill, Oklahoma where he was conferred with the degree of 13 Alpha10 signifying his accomplishments as a cannon cocker, artillery gunner.  Obviously the Army in its infinite wisdom recognized that anyone capable of aiming a spray gun at pine beetles was the perfect man for the job of firing howitzers. Somehow Private Fuller’s job then morphed into that of a truck driver when he returned home after basic training.  Of course Curt says he had not been trained to drive a truck while he was in basic training with the Army.  That sounds about right for the Army.

Upon his return home Curt married the love of his life, Holly, and 41 years later they are still married.  (Just look at the grin on Curt’s face.)

 

Armed with his experiences in the National Guard and an abiding need to feed himself and Holly, Curt looked for a job.  He read where a local ready mix concrete company was hiring and with his resume as an Army truck driver in hand, decided to apply for the job.  He was asked during the interview if he could drive a truck.  Curt said he lied just a bit but answered yes.  The interviewer said, That’s great!  That truck over there is loaded, here is the delivery ticket.  Drive it to the job and when you get there someone will help you get it unloaded.” Curt’s reflections on this event were, Yesterday I could not spell truck driver and today I are one.

 

Curt has enjoyed his job over the years and still thinks it is a great job.  During his career he advanced from truck driver to batch plant operator and then to dispatcher.  Then 15 years ago the owners of the company decided to sell the business to a large corporation.  When that happened Curt was made an offer he could not refuse.  He could either take a job driving a truck again or hit the road without any wheels beneath him.  With 25 years of experience but no formal education Curt says,I slid down the ladder of success banging my chin on every rung as I went.”  Curt accepted the offer to drive a delivery truck again and fifteen years later he is still doing that job.

It’s not such a bad job,” said Curt. As BB King says ‘The Thrill is Gone’ but it is an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”  During his time in the concrete business he has grown to appreciate how much concrete is all around us and an integral part of our lives in our homes, businesses, roads, virtually everywhere. You name it and I’ve been there while it was being built,” said Curt as he reflected on his career.  Curt has a nickname, At work they call me Dirt. Years ago someone didn't understand me on the phone and thought I said my name was ‘Dirt’. He called back and asked for ‘Dirt’ and I haven't been able to shake it since.  (It could be worse, you could still be known as “bugger”.)

Curt also learned to enjoy the people he has met during his time in the concrete business. The people that pour concrete are some very colorful characters. If you have no formal education, can't pass a drug test, are a convicted felon, or an illegal alien, you probably end up on the end of a concrete truck chute at some point. But I've come to know these folks as some of the most wonderful, hardworking people in the world and I've thoroughly enjoyed spending the last 40 years with them.”

Curt said that working in the concrete industry is one of the reasons he became interested in woodturning. My job has always involved long hours, early mornings, sometimes all night pours. When I went back to driving a truck I no longer had to worry about work things and became bored. I needed a hobby or something to keep me off the couch. My wife is an artist and we like to attend arts shows and exhibits. One day at the Salt Lake Arts Festival I made the comment after visiting a woodturning booth that I would like to try turning wood sometime. My brother-in-law was there and said he had a lathe that he had never taken out of the box. The next day he dropped it off in my driveway. Another of those ‘yesterday I couldn't even spell woodturner, today I are one’ things in my life. And so the woodturning journey began.”

Curt started turning and his progression as a turner resembles that of many of us, “The lathe I inherited was a brand new Ridgid pipe bed lathe, similar to the Craftsman lathes so many of us started out on. My first tuning tool was a sharpened flat screwdriver and my first turning was a piece of 2x2 fir that I splintered and whacked away at until it was somewhat of a crude spindle. I didn't keep it but I wish I would have. I graduated to a Harbor Freight set of tools, learned that hardwood tree branches turned better than fir, got a few books from the library and learned some techniques using waste blocks and faceplates. But my first big advancement was when I acquired a Oneway Talon chuck. Now I was cooking! Then I discovered the world of the online woodturning forums and saw the incredible work that can be done with a piece of wood, a lathe, and a little talent and I was thoroughly hooked on turning.”


 

 

 

 

Curt started woodturning in 2002 and the earliest woodturning for which he has a picture is of this self-described cat dish he turned which bears a 2003 date.

Over the years Curt says he was influenced by a number of people.  Rex Burningham had the booth at the Salt Lake Arts Festival and although he has never met him he credits Rex for inspiring him to try woodturning.  He also credits Chris Wright who operated the website Woodturner’s Resource as his first on line mentor.  He also learned from and admired the hollow forms of Keith Burns, the natural edge bowls of Mark Cothren, and the finishing prowess of Steve Schlumpf.  But Curt says the one single piece that inspired him most was this incredible natural edge hollow form in manzanita burl turned by Travis Stinson entitled Tazmanian Devil.

 

Curt’s natural edge efforts are admirable in their own right.

From left to right: Gambel oak root ball, box elder burl, and box elder burl

 

So tell us about your shop, Curt. Shop? Ha! I don't have a shop. It would be nice to have one though. I turn in a small corner of my garage. That's about all there is to it,” came his reply. I replaced the Ridgid lathe several years ago with a 1954 Oliver 159a. That's my go to lathe, old, heavy, iron with very solid features but nothing fancy. I also have a small Delta Midi that I do most of my small spindle work on. I have a 12" Craftsman band saw that I've abused to the point of near destruction and it still keeps on going. I have a cheap Craftsman table saw that scares me to death and I only use if I can't find a better alternative. Oh and I have a pretty nice Dewalt miter saw. And I have an older Grizzly dust collector on the other end of the garage that sounds like a jet engine when it fires up. But it has helped immensely with keeping the dust off my wife's car. As for turning tools, I'm probably a minimalist compared to most turners. I keep a few different style gouges, skews, and scrapers and only replace them when they wear out. I am pretty proud of my hollowing system though. A friend, Ernie Nyvall, made it for me a few years ago as a surprise.  Here are, from left to right, Curt’s hollowing rig, his beloved Oliver 159a with and his Delta Midi.  That’s Curt “Darth” Fuller in the far right picture about to wage war on a piece of wood.

 

When asked to explain his philosophy regarding his work and what inspires him Curt responded, I'm not much on philosophy when it comes to woodturning. It's all pretty spontaneous for me. I gather wood where I can find it; construction sites, the dump, neighbors cutting down trees. I cut it into chunks, seal it, and at some point just grab a chunk and see what I can make from it. I'm amazed by some folks who carefully draw out their work with all kinds of thought and planning. But I've never done that with anything else in my life so my woodturning is no exception. As for motivation, inspiration, and achievement, I love the look, feel, smell, about everything about wood. And if nothing else, woodturning provides a sense of accomplishment and a huge therapeutic release from anything that might be going on in life.”

 

A turning friend, Don McIvor, once shared this quote with me which puts into words how I feel about wood better than I ever could”:

‘One of the remarkable things about wood is its self-expression. Whether as a handle of a tool, as a dead stump, or alive in a forest where every branch is a record of the winds that blew, it is always telling something about itself. That is why man has an affinity with wood not only as a mere material, but also as a kindred spirit to live with and to know.’

                                                                                  --Eric Sloane, A Reverence for Wood

 


 

 

 

 

Do you sell your work?I sell very few of my turnings. I donate as many or more than I sell. And I have a lot in boxes in the basement. But I'm lucky to have two great outlets. My wife and I are members of a community art center. They let me put my work in the gallery and I sell a few things there, mostly Christmas ornaments. And I have a very nice older couple that found my work at a pre-Christmas craft show several years ago. They have traveled the world during their careers and continue to visit friends around the world now that they're in their 80's. For whatever reason, they stop by and see me before going on a trip and buy some of my turnings as gifts for their friends. I really consider that an honor that I have someone scattering my work around the world.”

 

Curt said the best advice he has for new woodturners is, Turn around and run the other way as fast as you can!”

When asked to elaborate, Seriously, turning really is a ‘vortex’ that will draw you in over your head before you even realize it. I think my first advice would be to work safe. Use common sense, wear the protective equipment available, and don't take chances. It's a fun hobby but it can turn dangerous and even deadly in a split second. Don't exceed the capacity of your lathe, chuck, or other mounting system, and stop the lathe instantly if something sounds wrong. Second, learn to sharpen. It will greatly enhance your experience and the outcome. Other than that, just have fun, let your creative side come out, and by all means build some shelves for all the stuff you're going to make.

When asked about his family Curt was enthusiastic in his response. My family is the greatest! I've been married for 41 years, have two daughters and a son, two granddaughters and two grandsons, and wonderful son and daughter in-laws. What more could I ask for! They've all given me more than I could ever give to them. I also live in a house full of cats and me and the dog; just have to deal with that I guess.

 

When asked to tell us about his interests besides woodturning Curt said, I like all kinds of art. I think I've learned that from my wife's art interests over the years. So I enjoy going to art shows, galleries, etc. My wife is also a volunteer at the local museum so we enjoy visiting any kind of museum when we're out and about.”

Holly is an accomplished artist in her own right. Holly’s work is mostly florals and landscapes in watercolors and acrylics.  She also does some collage work.  Below are examples of each.  She also teaches watercolor painting at the local senior center.

  

“I love to fish, mostly fly fishing, but my shoulders aren't as young as they once were so I don't fish as much as I used to. I like growing a garden in the summer and working outside in the yard. I love good music and still occasionally try to pick out a song on my guitar. I love the mountains around my home and enjoy getting up there when I can.”

What do you do for fun?  Besides woodturning? My grandkids…..”

 

have become one of my favorite things in life lately. They're scattered from 6 to 16 years old so there's always something fun and interesting going on with them. The two oldest granddaughters are into music. One plays the flute and saxophone and the other plays the string bass. So I like to attend their concerts and have really enjoyed the "culture" they've exposed me to. The two younger grandsons are a couple of wild hooligans that are always fun to be with. My youngest grandson, Zemedu, is adopted, from Ethiopia, so it has been an incredible experience watching him change from a shy little guy who didn't speak or understand English to an outgoing, fun loving, and totally spoiled kid. My wife and I like to vacation with our family. We get together a few times every year for a good trip with the whole gang or just with the grandkids. I'm someone that still enjoys a good car trip.”

 


 

 

 

 

Curt provided a number of pictures. As he stated earlier he likes to turn woods that are readily available in his area.  “Box elder is plentiful around here and I like how it turns out.”

Box Elder Burl

 

But Curt’s favorite wood is Russian olive which he says grows like a weed here in Utah.”

 

Curt’s range of turning encompasses delicate ornaments, hollow forms, boxes, goblets and even segmented work.  I think he can be called a Compleat Woodturner.”

 

It has been my distinct honor to profile the artist Curt Fuller.  Curt would have you believe that he lives a boring life and I quote My life is pretty dull.  I will respectfully disagree.  Curt has demonstrated through his own words that he is a hard worker, a dedicated family man, a devoted husband, a loving father, a doting grandfather, an accomplished yet modest artist, a student of the arts, an outdoorsman, an aspiring musician, a gardener, a fisherman, and a man who is completely comfortable in his own skin.  That is far from boring and is a life to be admired and envied by many.

 

While reading Curt’s answers to my questions for his Behind the Art profile I was reminded of some lines from the movie Field of Dreams.  I will paraphrase those lines to end this profile.

Mike:  “Do you live in heaven, Curt?”

Curt:  “No, it’s- it’s Utah.”

Mike:  “Utah? I could have sworn it was heaven.”

Curt:  “Is there a heaven?”

Mike:  “Oh yeah!  It’s the place where dreams come true.”

Curt:  “Maybe this is heaven.”

Mike: Curt, I think your dreams have come true.  You live in heaven and just don’t realize it.

 

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Saturday the 18th. Thanks for visiting Woodturners Unlimited.