Curtis Erpelding grew up in Colorado where his family owned a camping ground. His father did all of the maintenance, from carpentry and welding, plumbing and electrical repair, to roadwork and trash hauling. Working alongside him exposed Curtis to many skills and he learned to enjoy physical labor, to have a respect for tools and to take pride in performing the task at hand however mundane it might be. Curtis doesn’t remember a particular interest in wood (his main passion in high school was restoring sports cars and his degree from the University of Colorado is in English Literature) but his first job after moving to Seattle in 1975 led in an indirect way to an interest in woodworking and furniture design. As sales clerk and handyman-by-default at a large book store, Curtis found himself building shelves, making shipping crates and repairing store fixtures, all of which sparked his interest in woodworking. At the same time he was living in a series of small, unfurnished apartments and decided to use his new-found interest to make portable furniture. The confluence of woodworking and furniture design in his life had an unanticipated and surprising effect: he had found his career.
Even though Curtis was self-taught, reading everything relevant that he could find, he eventually found his way to the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts, where he honed his skills and matured his design aesthetic. Curtis also spent long, long hours in his shop. Putting in time with the materials and the process is, in the end, the only way to learn, whether you've studied with the best or struggled on your own.
While living in apartments and small studios, Curtis developed a need, and subsequently a fascination with, knockdown furniture design. His curiosity led to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980 to develop three knockdown furniture prototypes that would be suitable for manufacture. Although none of these prototypes were ever put into commercial production he still continues to make the stacking chair and leaning bookshelf (designs that came out of the grant project) in small production runs at his shop and home in Port Orchard. In 1981 Curtis became a member of The Northwest Woodworkers Gallery, and his career as a furniture maker began to soar. Since 1980, Curtis has sold and shown his work nationally, and his work has earned the respect of fellow woodworkers across the nation. Curtis has appeared in Fine Woodworking Magazine as both an artist and writer, and his instructional videos produced by Fine Woodworking are still available after many years.
In 1993 Curtis was asked to help resolve joinery challenges on the traditional Japanese Shinkuza truss system for the Coval House. The scale, compared to furniture, was monumental, but Curtis was undeterred and developed elegant joinery solutions that would have impressed the Japanese craftsmen who developed the Shinkusa truss centuries ago. The success of Curtis’s structural designs were validated in 1994, when an engineering testing firm attempted to crush a full scale truss prototype utilizing Curtis’s joinery. The truss not only supported loads 20 times load threshold, the ultimate crush limit was never determined because hydraulic presses large enough to force the truss into failure were not available to the engineering firm.
Curtis continues to design and build fine furniture in his Port Orchard shop for clients across America. He can be found at his website, www.curtiserpelding.com. His furniture can also be viewed at The Northwest Woodworkers Gallery.