Textures of Nature

Where we see scrap wood, Michael Bauermeister finds a fresh canvas.

By Tyler Bierman
Photography by Colin Miller/Strauss Peyton


Today Michael Bauermeister is one of the finest wood artisans in the Midwest and the country. He has been featured in countless magazines, art exhibits and even the Smithsonian. You can find his work anywhere from residents on either coast to local hospitals where they provide a much-needed calming, natural presence for patients. So, would you believe that he spent the bulk of his early career building furniture? Bauermeister explains, “When I graduated, I couldn’t figure out how to make a living as a sculpture artist, so I made furniture for 15 years. That satisfied some of my desires to work in a 3D space and create things that also happened to be utilitarian.”

“In the early '90s, I started playing around with some sculptural wood bowls that I was making using a technique I had come up with. I found that there was actually a market for those where I could reach a wider audience and sell through galleries.”

Since then, Bauermeister's work has continued to grow and change. He has created works of art that range from large, textured vessels to tabletop sculptures and bowls. Most recently he's been focusing on painted wall pieces that are anything but your run-of-the-mill paintings. “They're mostly inspired by natural colors and textures. Whether it's the surface of water or leaves on a tree, I try to make all those carving marks reflect something I see in nature.”

Regardless of what he's creating he always starts with cabinet-grade lumber.  “I glue that together to make whatever it is I'm using as a beginning form, then for the sculptures I use a big lathe to establish the general shape. For the final carving, I always use traditional gouges—curved, chisel-like tools—to create the shape and textured surfaces that I like.”

“The next step is usually to add color. I like to add many layers of color to the surface, which I sand off in places until I get a kind of variegated coloring. Each little carving mark becomes it's own spot of color that's surrounded by the wood grain. When that's all said and done it gets a lot of coats of clear lacquer over the top. Then, of course, they come and take it away from me,” he laughs.

That's what he's doing now, but where does he see his art headed in the future? As Bauermeister explains, he'd like to start letting his work tell stories. “I spend a lot of time thinking about what humanity is doing to the natural world. I'm trying to come up with ways to talk about that with my wall pieces.”

With some of his pieces in the six-foot range, Bauermeister's work can take up a surprising amount of lumber, but he always tries to be as conscious of the environment as he can by working almost exclusively with wood that he gets through Lumber Logs, a company that removes trees for city development. 

Next up for Michael Bauermeister is the St. Louis Art Fair in Clayton happening Sept. 9-11. For more information on his portfolio, future projects or just to connect with him, visit his website.