Pilot & Artist (Part One)
By ANN Contributor Aleta Vinas
(He comes from a family revered in aviation -- a legacy he's
worked a lifetime to uphold. ANN's Aleta Vinas recently caught up
with Erik Lindbergh, grandson of the aviation pioneer, to find out
how he's making his own mark on the world -- with art. Here's Part
I of Aleta's story. -- ed.)
The name Lindbergh conjures up visions of white scarves, rotary
engines and the romance of flying into the Great Unknown on a
mission that's the first of its kind. It evokes visions of a long,
dark, lonely, transatlantic flight. It reminds us that the Spirit
of St. Louis and the man who flew it, Charles Lindbergh, were
But there is another Lindbergh making a name for himself today.
This Lindbergh uses the Earth instead of the air, trees instead of
an airplane to express himself. Erik Lindbergh, grandson of
Charles, is carving his niche in one of a kind wood furniture,
space theme sculptures and more recently, limited edition space
theme sculptures cast in bronze.
Charles Lindbergh passed away when Erik Lindbergh was 9. "I have
some great 'kid' memories." For instance, he recalls his
grandfather bringing peanuts and peanut brittle for the grandkids.
But his grandchildren knew what was important. They would ask
grandpa to wiggle his ears.
Charles Lindbergh laid down a challenge in response; he would
give 50 cents to the grandchildren who could learn to wiggle their
own ears. Young Erik spent the next six months working on it. At
his grandfather's next visit, Erik could not only wiggle his ears
but flare his nostrils and raise each eyebrow independently. That
impressed Charles Lindbergh and he gave Erik a dollar. That kind of
"going beyond" thinking has carried through to Erik's adult
Erik Lindbergh, like his grandfather, is a pilot, surprisingly
he is the only one in the family to go beyond his private ticket.
He soloed in 1989, earned his private pilot license in 1990 and his
commercial and Flight Instructor and Instrument Instructor
certificate in 1991. He instructed for two years and had started
into 135 charter work but the Rheumatoid Arthritis (called RA for
short) that he'd been diagnosed with years before made flying
virtually impossible. RA is an immune system disease. The immune
system attacks the body's own healthy cells. RA can affect more
than just the bones and joints and brings with it pain, swelling,
joint stiffness and fatigue.
After leaving the aviation arena, Lindbergh followed the call of
the "wildwood." Much of flying is generally very precise, using
checklists and procedures. There is some instinct and feeling
involved such as with a crosswind landing. In creating his original
furniture pieces he uses instinct even more so, Lindbergh "listens"
to the wood and may vary his procedures of creation with each new
piece. "Some people see things in clouds, inkblots and things like
that. I can see things in wood."
Since 1987, Lindbergh
has collected pieces of wood. He'd pick up interesting pieces of
driftwood from beaches and rivers in the northwest. The Blackfoot
River in Montana and Puget Sound (WA) have been two treasure troves
of driftwood for him. Even roadsides have yielded their "prizes" to
Lindbergh's growing pile. Lindbergh confesses "The neighbor's
woodpile is not completely safe. I'll give them all the firewood
they want for the cool piece of wood. I've always been attracted to
very unusual pieces of wood."
Lindbergh's affinity for the wood is best explained on his
website, "As I contemplate my own tentative relationship with the
earth, I find myself identifying with the gnarled trees, our
twisted trunks, knots and burls are a visible testament to the
struggles we have lived through and the more 'skawapity' we get,
the more character we have. Perhaps this kinship is what lights the
creative fire in my belly and draws me into this 'wildwood'
The wood pile grew and often took up half a U-Haul in the course
of some of the frequent moving he and his wife, Mara did. In 1991,
his wife spoke louder to him than the wood. Lindbergh ventured into
actually creating something with the pieces. A gift from his
father's second wife, a book called Rustic Woodworking was well
timed. He made a bench and presented it to the pair as a thank you
for the book. Several more pieces followed and were given as gifts
to family and friends.
Though Lindbergh was using up the wood for his creations, his
pile still seemed to grow. "Once you sort of, start this habit, if
you will, other people help you out." Lindbergh now has some
friendships with tree surgeons who will dish information on the
location of some of their more exotic "patients" that didn't make
Occasionally Lindbergh will buy a piece of wood but the need to
do so perturbs him. He is adamant about not buying a piece of
endangered wood, like mahogany from the rain forests and such.
Lindbergh keeps his eyes on the environmental side of things. "When
I can make a choice, I try to make a better environmental choice,
if I can."
In 1993, Lindbergh's wife suggested, that perhaps he should sell
his work. Erik went right to work. His first sold piece was a side
table that went to a friend for much less than Erik's pieces cost
today. Made of Myrtle wood with plum and apple, the finish was a
glossy finish. Lindbergh felt the finish seemed "cheaper." Ever
since, he finishes in satin or matte.
Lindbergh is mostly self taught. He took wood shop in high
school but didn't enjoy it much because of all the sanding
required. Lindbergh realized "I'm allergic to straight wood and
As with the flying, Lindbergh's Rheumatoid Arthritis made his
early years of woodworking difficult. "I wasn't able to work that
long or hard in the shop because my joints were in such bad shape.
It took a lot of effort and energy to make a single piece."
Lindbergh's perfectionist streak only added to the difficulties of
carving out a living for he and his wife. "I like to really over
polish and really pay close attention to detail."
With the amount of time
and effort spent on each piece, Lindbergh finds it difficult to
make money. He finds it difficult to charge for the hours that have
gone into the item and have a realistic price. Lindbergh has found
people who understand and appreciate the value of his hard work and
perfectionist mindset. "Over the years I've developed enough
clientele and people who like my work, that they see it a little
differently. It became easier for me to sell pieces for more money
and have people actually asking for them."
In 1998 Lindbergh was prescribed Enbrel for rheumatoid
arthritis. Lindbergh describes the Enbrel as "extraordinary." He
realized about 18 months ago just what the medication had done for
him when he was told to stop taking the Enbrel for seven to eight
weeks when doctor's diagnosed him with an infection. During this
time without the Enbrel, Lindbergh "rediscovered what Enbrel
allowed me to forget. How difficult it was, how much pain there was
to pick up an object like a plate with food on it."
Lindbergh prefers creating his own originals to making
commissioned pieces, since creative differences can pop up when the
buyer doesn't receive what he expected. Or the buyer simply decides
he no longer wants the piece. One of Lindbergh's current pieces was
the result of a mind change. The item is a cradle, modeled after
Tingmissartoq the nickname given to his Grandfather's Lockheed
Sirius by a young Eskimo boy during a stop in Greenland. The name
means "one who flies like a big bird." The piece was originally
started as a commission piece. The buyer decided he was no longer
interested. Lindbergh is continuing the work and already has a few
grand worth of time and materials. The interior will be leather
with copper patina on the edges. It weighs 700 pounds. It might be
scary to see the baby that uses it. The plan is to display the
cradle at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
Creating original pieces from his imagination can be risky,
"I'll put in a tremendous amount of work on a piece and it really
won't sell. Or I'll put in very little work on a piece and it will
sell immediately. You just never know, especially with these one of
a kind pieces. One person's rustic furniture is another's
Some of his favorite creations are the tables and benches as
well as the Curtis chair. "I've had great fun using unusual slabs
of wood to make coffee tables." His creations don't favor one
specific era or style. Lindbergh's preference is for pieces that
are "whimsical or 'beefy' and over-built, yet simple, really
polished and smooth."
Lindbergh is frustrated with today's "throwaway furniture." He
finds they are a necessary evil and uses them reluctantly. "It
works, it's functional (referring to a desk he has), it doesn't do
anything for my soul." At some point Lindbergh plans to create
pleasing replacements for these "throwaways."
"My rebellion is to create something that will not only serve a
purpose," he said, "but will awaken the senses to the beauty of all
the 'imperfection' that is our world."
One of his favorite woods to work with is juniper. It's very
aromatic and a soft yet strong wood. Lindbergh claims the juniper
is "extremely beautiful with red and white markings in the
heartwood." Other favorites include maple, yellow cedar and western
red cedar. Lindbergh got a great deal from a mill on old growth
cedar ends that aren't used by the mill. He admires the cedar for
its tight grain. Lindbergh made a tiny 4" rocket ship from the
cedar used as the model for his bronze Flash Gordon style Rustic
Rocket. The piece was bronzed and has the distinction of having
flown on SpaceShipOne. The piece will be sold and the proceeds will
benefit the Lindbergh Foundation.
Lindbergh says the pieces he likes the most tend to stay in the
Gallery. The items Lindbergh feels the least satisfied with, some
of his music stands, for example, "sell instantly."
Some of the stands didn't turn out the way Lindbergh envisioned.
"there's this little bit of dissatisfaction," he said. Still,
Lindbergh says he likes all his pieces in some way. He wouldn't
want to work on a piece he didn't "care about." In the future,
Lindbergh said he would love to have a real gallery but says "I'm
not ready for all that right now."