People build castles in the air in the hope of achieving their dreams. However, Uli Kirchler didn’t need to build castles in the air, for he has already achieved his lifelong passion for building castles on gnarled tree burls that are designed to awe the viewers! Such is his woodworking skill that the appearing and disappearing ‘hidden castles’ gets his viewers totally astounded.
This woodworker, who is originally from Italy and now based in Portland, Oregon, US, has a unique feel for the wood and its textural surface, and tree burls are his favorite medium. He has evolved a carving process, where he builds castles and other buildings that pop out of the surface of the tree burls at the flick of a wrist and can be pushed back into its wooden base. This is certainly a unique take on working with wood.
Uli selects tree burls whose knots and twists imitate rocky hillsides and other natural surroundings. After he chooses the wood, he air-dries it, at times for years! As an artist, he uses fungal discoloration, folds, holes, and cracks found in the wooden stock to affix twigs and branches, and even inlay them with eggshells and turquoise to make the artwork more exotic.
So how did Uli get started on this unique journey? From the beginning, he was the happy-go-lucky kid. He loved music, traveling, and adventure, and planned to travel around the world in a sailboat and make his way back on a camel’s back!
However, Uli’s plans got shelved, when he met his wife, Jenny, a Vietnamese. Much grounded by marriage and children, he discovered the wonderful world of woodworking and took to it, like fish to water. Without any formal training, he honed his skills to end up creating his fascinating ‘hidden castles’ and wowing the crowds.
One can find his sculptures in the Portland Saturday Market. In the website portlandsaturdaymarket.com, he explains about wood, thus, “Most of the wood I use comes from the West, in particular, Oregon and California. It’s important that I select each piece, for in each piece lies the art, waiting to be revealed.”