Creative Carver

Primitives influence artist
Mueller to try something new

The Crestwood, Ky.,
furniture builder turns to folk art

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

CRESTWOOD, Ky, (August 2011) – For Crestwood, Ky., resident Robbie Mueller, a love of crafting furniture slowly evolved into a passion for creating art. His artwork begins with a vision and ends with a tangible form made from re-salvaged materials and carved wood.
Originally, Mueller began his artistic career by building farmhouse-style reproduction pieces. He then “started making more accessories to go along with the furniture,” in a folk art style, said Mueller, 55.

Robbie Mueller

Photo by Helen McKinney

Primitive artist Robbie Mueller of
Crestwood, Ky., likes to recycle
discarded wood and metals
for his artwork.

“I’ve always had a fondness for old, worn furniture,” said the Louisville native. A retired middle school science teacher, Mueller moved to Oldham County in the late 1970s. He decided to further his hobby of furniture building upon retirement four years ago.
For years, Mueller ran a small landscape business, Lawns and Such. Rather than expand his landscaping business upon retirement, he thought pursuing his hobby of furniture building would be more economical. He was able to use his artistic talents in designing landscapes to a certain extent but said his present artform of building furniture and folk art “is more enjoyable. I love the creative process.”
Mueller can customize a piece of furniture to a customer’s exact specifications. Whether the finishing touch involves painting or distressing the wood, each piece has its own unique look. It “causes you to reminisce or connect with the past,” he said. His furniture is designed so that “you want to reach out and touch it.”
Many of his customers are referrals that have first viewed his furniture at regional art shows and then decided they wanted a complimenting piece of folk art for their home. Mueller attends about seven regional juried art shows a year including Arts on the Green, Art in the Arbor, and the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair. A member of the Kentucky Crafter’s Guild, Mueller displays his art annually at shows in Bowling Green and Berea, Ky.
After completing college, a family member mentored Mueller in constructing functional oak furniture. As his skills increased, he found himself building and selling primitive farmhouse furniture such as shelves, tables and hutches. His business became known as Mueller’s Farmhouse.
Through observance and trial and error, Mueller has taught himself the necessary skills to transfer his love of crafting furniture into that of making contemporary folk art pieces. He crafts accent pieces such as chickens, crows and weathervanes, each with their own unique twist.
He has used leftover wood from furniture he has carved and combined it with corrugated metal and electrical wire to create a raven landing on a fence post known as “Raven’s Roost.” Discarded metal roofing, a rusted steel rod and carved wooden cow became a weathervane he labeled, “Elsie’s Udder Side.” A raccoon carved from pine with a refrigerator coil brush for a tail became “Night Bandit.”
“Finishing my pieces with a “time worn” painting technique is a unifying characteristic of all my work,” said Mueller, who pays a lot of attention to surface detailing. He uses a combination of acrylic paints, toners, sanding-distressing techniques and a finishing application of wax or polyurethane. “Coming up with a catchy name for each piece is always a fun way to finish,” he said.
Worn out objects from the past that some might consider useless have become inspiration for Mueller. His goal is to take pieces from previous eras and bring them to life again with a new purpose and function for a new owner.
Wes Curtis is a customer of Mueller’s who purchased what he called “an amazing piece” from Mueller. Curtis, who teaches photography and sculpture at Manual High School in Louisville, said that from the moment he saw Mueller’s work he “fell in love with the character Mueller was able to develop.”
Curtis has an eye for art, as he has been a juror for the Art in the Arbor art fair. At this year’s show, Mueller’s “booth was the last one, on the last row I walked through,” said Curtis. “It was like the grand finale; they had saved the best for last.”
Curtis ended up purchasing one of Mueller’s pieces. Wanting something special for his wife for their 10-year anniversary, he selected a piece of folk art depicting a mother opossum with three babies on her back. When his wife saw it, she commented that it was too bad there were not four babies, as the couple had four children.
Curtis asked Mueller if he could add an opossum baby, and Mueller was more than happy to oblige Curtis. “I was impressed with his willingness to make changes to the piece.”
Mueller has some of his furniture and artwork on display at the Shelbyville Antique Market in Shelbyville, Ky., and will participate in the Woodland Art Fair on Aug. 20-21 in Lexington, Ky.
With his passion for wood and metal, Mueller said he has “a high appreciation for the arts.”

• To contact Robbie Mueller or to see more of his artwork, visit: www.FolkArtKentucky.com.

Back to August 2011 Articles.



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