The Architect’s Wife has always been focused internally on showcasing our showroom space and the artists, creators, or makers within it. But given the current circumstances, we’re learning to shift our focus and connect with people in new ways. More importantly, we want to shine a light on craftspeople and the creativity they contribute to our community. In this “Stoop Stories” series, The Architect’s Wife visits friends and makers to share how they’re staying in/spired.
Let us introduce you Tom Benedict – a treasure hunter and artist that harvests Rocky Mountain Juniper pieces to create unique hand-carved sculptures, cribbage boards, peg games and bowls. Tom forages the vast countryside (the most rewarding part of his creative process) in search of the perfect pieces of wood. We spent the afternoon surveying Tom's finds which have grown into quite the inventory of juniper specimens. From his collection, he creates custom furniture, artwork, along with other large installations. A favorite of the Architect's Wife (and most labor-intensive works) are Tom's cribbage boards. We hope you enjoy Tom's nature inspired works that we treasure so much!
Tell us what you do. How did you fall into your craft?
I’m a natural born treasure hunter. Even as a kid, I was wandering the woods searching for whatever I deemed valuable at the time. After moving to Montana in 2005, I became increasingly determined to find and sell shed antlers, stones, fossils, relics, and any other natural treasures I could think of. My goal then was to spend as much time in the field as possible. All that time in the field eventually put Rocky Mountain Juniper trees on my radar. These days, I hunt for the most twisted and gnarled dead juniper trees I can find, bringing them home to create unique sculptures, furniture and games. Most recently, my focus has been creating large outdoor sculptures for public art displays throughout the West.
Can you tell us about your creative process?
My wife Erin and I live in Three Forks and I'm a stay at home father to a rambunctious 3-year-old boy. I've spent the last year transforming our yard into as much of an "edible kidscape" as possible, with a circular garden, tepee trellises, a quail coop, a kids' treasure pit digging area (with real treasure in it), and of course juniper sculptures. My workshop is adjacent to my home, so I fit in my work whenever I can. My son and I spend a lot of time outdoors, usually heading off in the morning to go fishing, antler hunting, or rock collecting. He loves it and I love it. Once we get home, he’ll play in the yard while I do light work at the shop or in the garden. During nap time is when I’ll get some carving, grinding, heavy loud work done. In the afternoon, if it’s nice, we'll go back outside until coming in to make dinner and do indoor chores. Once we get the kiddo to bed, Erin and I will sit down, chat for 5 minutes and then fall asleep.
What have you been up to during these quarantine pandemic times?
I live in a 105-year-old house, so there is no shortage of house and garden projects to keep me hustling during quarantine. Erin has been working from home since March and it has been great to have her around all day. Her being home means my interaction with adults actually increased during quarantine. A fun project for this spring has been the quail. Last month, after extensive internet education on the subject, I purchased 12 quail eggs and an incubator to hatch them. We ended up hatching and raising 10 baby quail chicks. They now live out in a movable “quail tractor” in our yard. It was a very fun project for my son, but mainly fun for me.
What's something you've been working on your excited about?
At this time last year, I had just finished up the Tanglewood juniper wall. Since then, I’ve been focused on getting my foot in the door for public art opportunities. I am very proud to have two of my large juniper sculptures on public display in Auburn, WA and Colorado Springs, CO. I have another piece at the shop that was accepted in Colorado, but postponed for a year due to the pandemic. In the meantime, I’ll be putting that one out for display on my own property. Once some shop space is freed up, I look forward to bringing home a few new large pieces.
What's something one might not know about you?
I enjoy a good prank. That actually is an understatement, as I have to actively NOT pull pranks to stay out of trouble. One time on a backcountry antler hunting trip, I secretly hiked in a 6-foot-long foam elk antler that I had meticulously crafted. On my route in, I placed the dummy antler atop a steep rocky hillside, highly visible across a canyon from where we were camped. Claiming to have seen some elk on that hillside prompted one of my friends to see the “antler” through binoculars and excitedly head for the hills. An hour later they found the fake and were thoroughly disappointed and confused.
Where do you find inspiration?
My works are totally inspired by nature. This is an obvious statement as my works are literal pieces of nature. Spending time alone in lesser traveled/seen areas of Montana is something that has always cleared my head and fueled creativity. I try to get out in the field solo regularly to keep myself on point, especially during these strange times.