GTPulse: East Bay Farmer Turned Artist Creates Michigan Inspired Work
How does an East Bay Township farmboy become a craft creating, woodworking hit on Etsy? Ask Matt Courtade.
Raised on 160 acres of farmland, he was brought up in an early 1900s stone farmhouse learning how to sow seeds, build, tend to livestock, and help out with the family farm market. He still lives on that land today. The home he shares with his wife is next to the farm market he and his family sold produce out of in his youth. He also still works at the farm market, except nowadays he’s selling his wooden artwork out of it instead of veggies.
“I grew up on the farm here. I started farming in high school and did it through the ‘90s. We had a farm market here. That’s what this all originally was. We sold Heinz 57, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers. You name it.”
A father of five daughters, running the farm market became increasingly difficult as each one was born. When an opportunity arose to work in the athletic department at East Middle School, the family farming and farm market ceased.
Matt coached track, cross country, football and also became the unofficial photographer of sporting events before retiring. Retirement is something I hardly think about, but when I do I wonder what I’ll want to do. All of the things I never have time to do? Or absolutely nothing? When you don’t have to be anywhere or do anything, where do your thoughts go? For Matt, his thoughts went back to a class he wished he had taken while in high school.
“When I was in high school I wanted to take a class called Art of the Motion Picture. My counselor said, ‘no you’re going to college next year you need another language class.’”
Photographing sporting events turned into photographing landscapes and close up shots of plants and flowers. He enjoyed taking pictures of nature and hoped that he could sell prints of the photographs somewhere locally. When he went to a local camera club to talk about the possibility of doing that he was met with skepticism.
“A guy got up there and talked about how anyone who just wants to sell photography is not going to be successful, and he’s right. It’s very difficult. His point was, unless that photo has a meaning to you, you might buy it. Most times people like it but not necessarily enough to buy it.”
He felt uninspired until one of his daughters asked him to make her a key holder. She was living in Colorado, missing home and wanting something to remind her of being back. Matt used a piece of barnwood to carve out the shape of Michigan to send to her.
“Things kind of grew from there. So I switched over my Etsy.”
He had photography up for sale on his Etsy site and saw an uptick of sales when he began adding different Michigan themed wood art. Wine racks, hanging art and keyholders are all fit for Michigan households all over. Made with bare wood or painted, many of Matt’s color schemes are inspired by northern Michigan. A color combination of pale greens and greys is named after Petoskey. Vivid darker blues are named after Northport, and brilliant baby blues for Leland.
The shop is called The Wooden Wall. He transformed the farm market that he and his family once worked out of by splitting a majority of the structure off for a workshop and leaving the covered counter space as a storefront that is open to customers on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. He used old barnwood from the farm for his first few art pieces but now mainly uses pallet wood. Beyond the state’s shape, Matt sells wooden artwork that depicts scenes of outdoor life, Michigan sports, as well as custom work. Although he doesn’t get much foot traffic, his Etsy shop does well and some of his work is sold at West Bay Handmade.
He also sells some of his daughter’s artwork from the small shop too. She paints inspiring quotes and funny expressions on wood with different designs and colors.
“We started out together six years ago and then split three years ago. She became Raspberry Lane on Etsy, now she’s got a little farm.”
It seems like combining creativity and farm life is a family thing for Matt and his loved ones. Exploring new ways to play with creative expression has been a way for Matt to enjoy a successful side job even in retirement. He probably didn’t think that he would still be working in the old family farm market all these years later. He probably didn’t think he would be selling his artwork out of it either. Funny how things work out.
Find Matt at www.Etsy.com/shop/TheWoodnWall.
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