“I’m an avid vegetable gardener – totally utilitarian, just vegetables. I started gardening as a survival skill as an artist, and it’s become a lifestyle.”
When Craig Nutt creates furniture, his inspiration comes not from family traditions passed down through generations, or from the academy. For years, his inspiration has sprung from working in his vegetable garden.
Craig Nutt is a craftsman who has been making furniture and sculptures for over 40 years. His career has spanned administration and board service for preeminent arts organizations in the South. Craig was Interim Executive Director of Tennessee Association of Craft Artists, Director of Programs, CERF+-The Artist’s Safety Net, founding Board member of The Furniture Society, and board service for multiple Craft Councils in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. Craig is a current Arrowmont Board Member and consultant for CERF+ for federal arts advocacy. For many artists, a career like Craig’s would have started from a childhood learning crafts in a family tradition or through formal education. But Craig’s journey was unusual. He can trace his interest in craft to the land – growing up next to cornfields and finding connection as a young man through his vegetable garden.
When Craig was growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, he could hear the roar of the static rocket testing in his hometown. He grew up when the “space race” began. The juxtaposition between the agrarian land and cold war technology stuck with Craig, though he didn’t originally imagine he would become a craftsman.
“I started out in pre-med,” Craig said. “I thought I was going to be a surgeon when I was a kid…but that all changed in college. I drifted into art and got more interested in art practice. I ended up with a degree in religious studies. I grew up in a really secular background, so I’m not sure how I ended up in religious studies. It has been surprisingly useful in my practice, even though I’ve done nothing scholarly with it.”
After school, Craig continued to make art. He also turned to gardening as a way to connect with his neighbors and community.
“When I started gardening in the ’70s in Alabama, things were polarized and I was on the side of the ‘long hair hippies.’ Once I started gardening, I instantly had something to talk with people that was an instant connection. It became a medium of communication. Once I made images with garden vegetables, there became layered values I could bring in.”
Craig began working with those concepts. He started seeing and drafting mechanical things onto vegetables. He made is first vegetable-image pieces in ’85 or ’86. They were inspired by antique wind toys, such as whirligigs. Then, he began seeing the similarities in commercial farming and the military.
In 1988 while listening to NPR, Craig heard presidential candidate George H. Bush say, “I will never use food as a weapon.” Craig said, “On the face of it, it was such an absurd statement but also very serious – which is a fertile territory for me.” That was the point at which Craig started making vegetable bombs.
Following the success of his vegetable bomb sculptures, Craig moved to furniture – ‘veg-Tables.’ “In furniture design, vegetation had always been incorporated onto furniture legs or table edges, stylized leafage, etc. When I started working with vegTables, I thought the decorations could become the structure rather than grafted onto another form… I could make the decorative element be the structural element of it. I could make respectful fun of period styles. For example: Queen Anne cabriole legs as celery stalks…”
“I can’t say I sold a lot of those pieces where I lived, but people liked them – because they were connected with gardening and with food. I could play with vegetable references, classical furniture references, and it turned into a new vocabulary for me.”
“I think what you discover in the process of doing your work, and the way things develop, can really tighten up your thinking.”
Craig continues to draw inspiration from vegetables and structural sculptor. His most recent work is in a new show, “Out of Bounds – Artists and Croquet” at Center for Craftsmanship in Maine. For the exhibit, Craig used growing grass ‘jimcorn’ – a beautiful multi-color flint corn. He crafted a corncob mallet and ‘popcorn’ ball, housed in a cruciform cabinet that fits all the pieces of the croquet set. The structure for the cabinet is drawn from the only neon sign in Craig’s childhood town. Situated where the cornfield ended and the lone gas station began, the sign alternated the words “EAT” and “GAS” — sharing the middle “A.” “A prophetic sign,” according to Craig.
You can now find select vintage works previously only seen in private collections through the Buddha Bee Collection. Craig and his wife, Linda, began the online store this fall. “The pandemic gave us a shove,” Craig said. “A received a couple of my pieces that had been borrowed for exhibitions, and bought back a few from estate sales. We had some vintage pieces that wouldn’t be necessarily sent to new shows, but were available, and this was a good way to put them out there.”
BuddhaBee Collection offers a selection of uncommon works by exceptional artists to enhance our everyday lives. www.buddhabee.com
Craig Nutt was painting and playing free improvised music in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1972 when a job restoring antiques awakened an interest in furniture and craftsmanship. His early work in furniture catered to the traditional tastes of his clients, and gave him the chance to assimilate period styles and furniture making techniques.
In time, he found ways to combine his skills as a furniture maker with the improvisational freedom he had applied to music and painting.
For a decade, Craig divided his time between his studio practice and working for CERF+ (as Director of Programs) to build a better safety net for artists in the United States.
Today he creates imaginative furniture and sculpture in a studio he built, with help from his friends, hidden in the woods outside Nashville, Tennessee.
His studio is open by appointment.