Since 1968, Nantucket Looms has been proud to represent our local craftspeople. We carry the works of over seventy different artisans, including painters, potters, basket weavers, jewelry makers and wood carvers. To honor those whose unique creations reflect the natural beauty and history of our beloved island, we will highlight an artist on our website every month. This month, meet Kevin Kuester.
While many of Nantucket's visitors flock here in the warm summer months, there's a certain seasonal visitor locals love to see arriving in the wintertime - the snowy owl. It is no wonder, with its white coat and piercing eyes, that this beautiful creature has become inspiration to artists and photographers alike. One such artist is Kevin Kuester - a wood carver whose Snowy Owl collection is inspired by the influx of so many of these birds to the island in recent winters.
Kevin Kuester attributes his artwork to the seasonal lifestyle on Nantucket "You have to have hobbies out here - especially in the wintertime!". Kevin has been living on Nantucket full time for twelve years, after retiring here when he sold his design and advertising firm. 'I vacationed here about twenty years ago and just kept coming back". With a background in art and design (he studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design), Kevin found himself attending a bird carving class at the 1800 House in 2007. He made a 'Yellowlegs' carving for the Festival of Wreaths, which Liz Winship, with her exceptional eye for unique artwork, bought at the auction. Kevin says he never intended to sell his work but Liz expressed an interest in having his creations at Nantucket Looms.
For a while, Kevin created bird carvings until he felt they had run their course and therefore turned his focus to carving whales. It wasn't until the Snowy Owl sightings on the island in 2014 that Kevin had the idea to create the owl carvings. 'Nobody was doing owls", he says, so he began working on a 'family' of them.
A self-confessed perfectionist, Kevin explains the pros and cons of working on a group of bird carvings at one time. "The good news was you ended up with this little 'family' that all worked together but have slight differences, their own personalities. The bad news was, when you had to go back and fix something, you had to fix all seven of them! It took forever". It is this attention to detail that lead to Kevin working on his owls for about a year longer than he had anticipated, even having to cut off all their heads and reattach them after seeking the opinion of local ornithologist Ken Blackshaw, who told him the necks were too long. It is also this attention to detail that makes his work so impressive. It is obvious to see in the quality of the carvings and in the way Kevin speaks about his work that this is truly a labor of love.
The process from start to finish is quite remarkable. Beginning with a simple block of wood, usually pine but sometimes basswood, a rough shape is cut. Once the position and shape is established, Kevin works by hand to carve out the details with sculpting tools before adding six or eight layers of paint to give the piece more depth. Sometimes, whole finished pieces are carved from just one solid block of wood, while other times, smaller details are added.
Kevin likes the mystery around the creatures he carves. "Nobody really gets very close to a big sperm whale or an owl so you can be a little more interpretive with them. I like to give them their own little personalities". Describing the owls as "frustrating and fun", he admits to getting lost in the little details for hours. "Before you know it, it's dinnertime and you've only got one eye done".
When he is not in his basement studio working on carving intricate owls and whales, Kevin is a member of many committees around the town, including the Shelfish Association, to whom he likes to donate pieces to auction at the annual Scallopers Ball. Despite donating and selling some of his pieces, Kevin likes to keep at least the first of each of his 'families' of carvings. "We have a ton of them around the house, after working on them for so long they are hard to let go". Having seen the process and work that goes into creating them, it's easy to see why!
Click below to shop Kevin Kuester's Snowy Owl in our online store.