Photograph by Rob Carter of Mixed Greens Gallery
In Lee Stoetzel’s world, Harley-Davidsons, Volkswagen buses, Macintosh computers, and McDonald’s Big Macs all grow on trees. Or at least the materials to make them do.
The Pennsylvania artist recreates iconic products entirely out of wood, with a little steel and Bondo for support. “I stick with very recognizable parts of American culture,” he says.
Stoetzel’s woody representations tie these objects of conspicuous consumption back to the power of nature and the fragility of the Earth. Just don’t call him a hypocrite. All of the wood comes from trees that were already killed by fungus and dredged from rivers. Indeed, it’s the wear of the wood that attracts Stoetzel.
In 2004, he built an exact replica of a 1942 Jeep based on an Italeri model kit. The gouges and scars in the pecky cypress wood reminded him of bullet holes, he says, perfect for a classic military vehicle that has since become the quintessential four-wheel-drive.
There’s also the 1960s counterculture car-of-choice, the VW bus, whose wood doppelgÃ¤nger is currently parked in his dining room. That one was tough because he based it on his daily driver. “Every time I saw the real bus in my driveway, I’d notice something wrong about the sculpture,” he says.
In the case of Chopper (seen above), the custom “Captain America” Harley-Davidson from the film Easy Rider no longer existed. So Stoetzel started with a small Franklin Mint replica, scaled up with careful caliper work.
Stoetzel’s woodworking chops come on a need-to-know basis. Much of his knowledge was picked up chatting with the “older retired guys” who still put in a few days a week at the woodcraft store where he buys his supplies. The rest comes from the web and DIY books. While constructing the VW, he built his own steam bender from PVC pipe to shape the wood into the bread-loaf shape of the bus.
“After spending two years on the bus, I’m not being as ambitious with scale,” he says. “This week, I’m making a pizza.”
>> Stoetzel’s Woody Wonders: leestoetzel.com