Christopher Cantwell’s earliest memories revolve around wood. As a young child, Christopher’s mother found him frustrated and crying in front of several toy blocks. He flatly refused her help with the matter, he had his own idea of what he was building, and he was determined to make it work. As a 12-year-old, his persistence led him to win first place in the Central California Art League Young Masters Art Competition for a balsa wood sculpture he created. By his mid-teens he was making and selling furniture and wood boxes.
He spent the next several years experimenting, making cabinets and guitars; framing houses and pursuing a brief career as a world renowned rock climber. In 1982, the Ansel Adams Gallery hired him for a large commission of boxes inlaid with abstracted scenes of Yosemite. Soon thereafter Christopher settled on wood art as his life’s work. He has been a professional artist ever since.
Christopher taught himself the craft by reading books and articles, learning from other woodworkers and by studying any wooden object he came across to see how it was made. He says, “There was a lot of trial and error in the beginning as I learned about different design principles, the properties of different woods and how to work with them.” By educating himself about woodworking, Christopher developed exclusive techniques that are not practiced by woodworkers trained in more traditional realms. The result is a unique style, with each piece exploring both angles and curves; nature versus man-made; emotion and logic; joy versus misery and more.
Christopher works with well over 200 varieties of wood, with a preference for the exotic and unusual. Each piece is one-of-a-kind, with elements that are designed to fit the character of each specific piece of wood. Chris says, “I work with the wood and my own ideas when I make my designs. Often, the challenge of using a grain pattern in the best way or working with a particular piece of wood will fuel my inspiration.”
His work is featured in private and public collections throughout the world, including the ornament collection of the White House. Other collectors include Whitney Museum Director Beth Rudin-DeWoody and the late Dr. Irving Lipton, who was noted for having the largest collection of contemporary wood art in the world. Museums throughout the nation have hosted exhibits featuring Christopher’s work as well, notably Laguna Art Museum; Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum; Museum of Art and Design, NY and the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Photographs and articles about Christopher’s work have been published in numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, American Craft, Woodwork, the California Art Review and Art in America.
A full-time wood artist for over twenty-five years now, Christopher currently resides in Oakhurst, California. The view from his house includes 7,000 foot mountains, rolling foothills, majestic pine trees and sprawling oaks. He says, “I’ve had the ultimate California artist experience of sitting in the hot tub, enjoying the view and discussing how customer decisions, in a gallery 2,000 miles away, can be telepathically affected by my mood.” His other interests include tropical conversation, surfing, rock climbing and church activities.