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Enticed by Intarsia

Some of Lyle Sandstead's intarsia. Caroline Roers, Echo Press1 / 3
Lyle Sanstead of Evansville, pictured with some of his wildlife art. Caroline Roers, Echo Press2 / 3
Sanstead expanded his work over the years to include 3-D objects like four-wheelers, tractors, cars and trucks. Caroline Roers, Echo Press3 / 3

Lyle Sanstead of Evansville has never been much of a carpenter and he has no art background. Nonetheless, 13 years ago he became something he never thought he would - an intarsia artist.

"I had no inkling at all that I would ever do anything like this, but I love it," Lyle said.

He was first introduced to intarsia by his brothers-in-law who are avid intarsia artists.

Though he was skeptical at first when they brought him wood, patterns and a saw, a few months after he started, he fell in love with the craft and hasn't stopped since.

"It's a challenge, especially when I started out, but I've really enjoyed the challenge," he said.

Intarsia is created with different types of naturally colored and grained wood. Each piece of wood is individually cut, shaped and sanded. The pieces, usually anywhere from 50 to 150, are fit and glued together in an intricate pattern on a plywood backing cut to the shape of the final product.

For Lyle, this process can take as many as six months to finish.

"I don't think people realize how much time and effort it takes to make even a simple one of these," he said.

Before Lyle cuts any wood, he has to find wood to use for each part. Finding the wood alone takes many weeks because intarsia artists prefer to use naturally derived color and grained wood rather than dyes and stains.

"One wood duck I made I had to monkey with for about a year in order to get the right wood," he said.

Lyle has ordered wood from Africa, scavenged it out of the garbage cans behind furniture stores, taken it from green-treated fence posts and cut it from cedar shingles.

"I am always looking for something different to use," he said.

After finding the wood and cutting it, Lyle goes through the tedious process of having to fit and glue the pieces together.

"I remember creating my first piece, it was a raccoon and I got so disgusted with it. None of the pieces would fit and I couldn't follow a straight line, or crooked line for that matter. I ended up filling a lot of the cracks with saw dust to make it look better," he said.

Though this first attempt was barely successful, Lyle learned quickly and has created a variety of things from 3-D tractors to dog heads.

"The carving, the cutting - that is the art to it. It is like a puzzle; if the puzzle doesn't fit, then it doesn't fit," he said.

As intarsia has become more and more a part of his life, Lyle realized how the art would be perfect for connecting with his family and giving them something to remember him by.

"A few years ago, I made all of my grandchildren a replica of themselves doing what they love," he said, as he displayed one of his grandson skateboarding.

Some of the others include his two granddaughters playing volleyball and his other grandson playing a baby grand piano.

He has also made a 300-piece 4-wheeler for a grandson's graduation, Christmas ornaments and wall flower decorations.

"The things I make them are something they will have even after I am gone," he said. "I really hope they like them."

Having accumulated so many of these pieces in the past 13 years, Lyle decided it was finally time to show off his work.

"You know, not a lot of people know that I do this, but it is really a cool thing so I think they should see it," he said.

Lyle's artwork is on display at the Evansville Art Gallery for the month of August.

Karen Howell, president of the Evansville Art Center, said that though the center has displayed everything from quilts to photographs, intarsia is definitely a first.

"Oh it is just beautiful - we actually bought one, that is how beautiful we think it is," she said.


Lyle Sanstead Intarsia Exhibit


Evansville Art Center

111 Main St., Evansville


August 23-24 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

August 30-31 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For special appointment, contact

Karen Howell at (218) 948-2836.