The Making of a Masterpiece May 17 2024, 0 Comments

As Christopher Cantwell was preparing for his February exhibition in Breckenridge he asked us what we wanted for him to create for the show. It was a retrospective exhibition and the first solo show he had put on in decades. We encouraged him to think and to work big. For his last show, in New York City, he created the largest wall piece of his career, a 60” by 40” amalgamation of hundreds of pieces of wood, shell and stone. For the first time in a long time, Cantwell was inspired to work at  a grand scale again.

The result is a divinely inspired piece titled “Things Lost That Can Never Be Found.” Knowing that he would be spending much of the winter skiing and snowboarding (he is equally skilled at both), Cantwell set to work on a composition inspired by the curves of the mountains he loves to ride. Little did he know that as he started to work on the piece a beautiful flood of memories would overwhelm him.


Cantwell has fostered many children over the years. He has adopted two, a brother and sister duo named Eben and Jamie. Eben passed away in 2021 in a tragic hit and run car accident while he was out skateboarding. One of Cantwell and Eben’s favorite activities together was snowboarding. Creating this new piece hit Cantwell hard. He knew that he wanted light to emanate from the top of the composition. He didn’t know that the light woods, in this case a combination of holly, satinwood and maple, would ultimately represent the heavenly light that he pictured Eben ascending into.

The focal point is the cliff. It represents the sheer joy of adventure found while pursuing snow sports. Life is challenging, a fact that Cantwell found too poignantly while creating this piece given its connection to Eben. Cantwell’s mastery of marquetry has seen him overcome the challenges present in working with wood for five decades now. He knows, and represents in this piece, that overcoming challenges can be thrilling. This is why he expertly brings our eyes to such a steep feature in the composition. His use of holly contrasts nicely with the ebony used to create the darks just above the cliff. The distinct change in value brings your eye right to it.

“Things Lost That Can Never Be Found” is created from 300 different types of wood. A variety of about a dozen types of shells are used in the piece as well, with their shimmering effects wonderfully serving to mimic the effect of glittering snow. Cantwell is a master of movement and beautifully used highlights within the piece to make his viewers eyes dance around the work as they study it. The highlights amplify his aim of giving the artwork the appearance that it is snowing. Details are the foundation of his work. With 300 different types of wood present, and Cantwell’s unrivaled skill of shaving the wood down to the point it almost dissipates to dust, there are countless tiny pieces of wood filling in every gap between the largest slices used within the work. In many places throughout the piece there are over a dozen tiny of pieces of wood within a couple of square inches. The natural patterns found within each piece of wood, regardless of its size, are mesmerizing. It makes each part of the work seem to undulate with a radiant, natural energy.

Cantwell’s art has been shown around the world and featured in the collection of more than 10 museums, including the Smithsonian, the Laguna Art Museum, the Long Beach Museum of Art, Orange County Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, New York, the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, California,  the Mobile Museum of Art in Mobile, Alabama. Perhaps most prestigiously, Cantwell designed two pieces for the White House’s art collection. This led to a realization while he was in Breckenridge for his exhibition over the winter: Christopher Cantwell is here at our house. His art is in the White House. We are blessed and excited to share his masterful works in wood.