Friday, May 14, 2010

Tim O’Neill lifts the downed

Is an artist defined by their materials, their instruments, this thing called medium? When does fabrication become art? How does design affect the way we feel? When one combines a passion and talent for illustration, assembly, botany, mechanics, digital code development, business, family, saws, sanders, and wood, what title seems appropriate for their business card? Tim O’Neill solves problems with beautiful and useful wooden objects.

Trees are beautiful things when alive and have been useful to humans for a very long time. Tim O’Neill, an artist living in Independence Missouri, possesses an affinity, a deep appreciation for the primordial elegance of the tree and nature of wood. He always enjoyed building things. He invited Elise Del Vecchio and I to his studio spaces. We began in the attic of his 100 year old home on Sterling Avenue. Elise’s photos tell the story.

His attic looks to be the place where his dreams and ideas come to life through his hands to two dimensional renderings as well as virtual digital multi-dimensional specified measured images. There’s even a bed for those essential artist power naps. On this drizzly afternoon, one of his three content cats posed proudly on the quilt, watching as Tim described his artform, his end-to-end solution perspective about creating with wood.

Just about everything in this dreamy but very functional dream room consists of reclaimed materials. Tim’s a satisfied regular customer of our Habitat Re-Store. The wood for the banister to the attic loft came from his neighbors downed hackberry tree, felled by that big ice storm in 2001. That tree also gave him the inspiration to create a business as an urban lumberjack of sorts. Salvaging sounds industrial, but Tim enjoys using wood from local fallen trees that would otherwise see a final destination at the landfill or wood-chipper.

His admiration of wood informs his craft and art. He feels comfortable in all the process aspects of creating with wood, beginning with cutting and hauling the ice storm snapped hackberry. He enjoys the work to design based upon a clients needs. He’s a very good listener. The physical work makes him feel alive. Tim appreciates the goodness of teamwork with other artists and crafts people. He’s willing to build behind the scenes as well as create an elegant finish on the front of the cabinet. He works a great deal with others yet balances that with some solid reclusive creativity in his other “studio space”, what some may call a woodshop; where the designed dreams are cut, shaped, beveled, sanded, polished, and finished.

Tim’s palette, found in nature, consists of the colors, textures, and growth patterns called grain. Tim sees beauty in the quirky knot’s, the inconsistent cross cut layers, and the natural color of wood. Making usable objects, his pieces invite touch, draw you to interact.

I first met Tim at the Nelson-Atkins Museum while writing about the Venetian Glass exhibit, His art is there. Visit the American Indian art installation to see his creations. He collaborated with fellow craftsman to build the spaces for the new Egyptian art gallery. He’s currently part of the team creating the Bang & Olufsen retail space at 19th and Main. Fine work, yes, but his art begins at home.

Tim’s end-to-end perspective, a simple descriptive term we hear often in business, is his humble way of sharing the delight in the dream and the beauty of the finished piece. Behind his humility reside all those hours of hard work, experimentation, technical precision, mechanical patience, physical movement, safety awareness, practice, and naps. Here’s an artist willing to do the work as a fabricator for the back of one cabinet as well as the complete architectural-like creation of a wooden space to fit your needs.

Tim shared his insights:

- use common sense

- set high standards

- ensure usability

- appreciate context

- consider local materials

- value experience

Tim O’Neill lifts what others, and nature, have downed; lifts the material of wood to a new state of beauty, something we can use, something extending the posterity of a hackberry tree whose back broke with too much ice. Humans engaged in this thing called art, transport and transform the rest of us with their ways of living this end-to-end term in a very real way, and making something from it. The mystery to me is seeing the “it”, all the points between each end, and the way that some of those points appear to be beginnings.

Thanks to June, Tim’s wife for her hospitality, and to Sam, their son, for his humor and instructions on how to operate the mechanical spider that Tim apparently needs to repair…again.

Visit Round Tree Design at and The Urban Lumber Company

A St.Louis native,Tim O’Neill began his career with a BFA in graphic design from Southwest Missouri State University. He moved to Kansas City in 1995 and worked in a variety of environments. He was a graphic designer, an interface designer, an animator, an illustrator, and of course an artisan designing and building custom objects. Tim was also an instructor at the Kansas City Art Institute, and served as the Interim Director of their school of design for a two year term. His studio and home:

1830 Sterling
Independence, MO 64052

Independence, Missouri

Elise Del Vecchio is a designer and photographer

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