Do-it-yourself 2-wheel ‘art’

By Laura Wiens, The Triplicate August 26, 2013 04:04 pm

Elizabeth Carter rides her handmade wooden bicycle, which is currently on display at the Gallery of Arts & Culture. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Elizabeth Carter rides her handmade wooden bicycle, which is currently on display at the Gallery of Arts & Culture. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
With all her can-do ability and knowledge of how to survive in the wilderness, Elizabeth Carter would be a good person to know when the apocalypse comes.

For now, you can get to know the Crescent City craftswoman through her creations, such as a handmade wooden bicycle on display at a local art gallery.

It weighs in at 19 pounds with a red oak frame. It took Carter 350 hours to make it, interpreting an 1898 Chillion model that was made out of hickory.

While it’s currently hanging at the Gallery of Arts & Culture at 175 H St. in downtown Crescent City, it’s “meant to be ridden and ridden hard,” Carter says.

“It’s exquisite; it really is art, but highly functional,” says Barbara Burke, owner and director of the gallery. “It’s beautiful. It’s a real eye-catcher.”

The bicycle weighs just 19 pounds, but it took 350 hours to make. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
The bicycle weighs just 19 pounds, but it took 350 hours to make. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
The museum exhibit blends Carter’s love of bicycling and craftsmanship. Both were instilled in her by her father as she grew up in Alaska and Santa Rosa. He started her biking to school and she got hooked on that mode of transportation. More importantly, he taught her how to make things for herself, something he’d learned from his own father.

“My Dad took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew,” said Carter, who “borrowed” her grandfather’s knife to carve a willow ptarmigan when she was just 5. “Dad said it was very well-proportioned, but I got in trouble for using Grandpa’s knife. I didn’t cut myself, which was amazing.”

He taught her how to run a metal fabricating mill, and to weld and rivet. He showed her “how not to just survive in the wilderness, but to thrive.” He also introduced her to mountaineering, which became a life-long pursuit.

Later she learned about the Scandinavian concept of “Saami Sloyd,” which in Swedish means to craft and make practical things. At that point, Carter writes in a brief biography, “there was no turning back and it meshed so well” with what her father taught her. “The Saami people are the indigenous native reindeer herders of Sweden. Everything they make is of the forest … I will practice and perfect Sloyd until the day I die.”

Now 50, Carter has spent her life making things: wooden cooking implements, fishing rods and gear for mountaineering and other outdoor pursuits, pressurized alcohol stoves and wood gas stoves, knives and axes crafted from stone and bone, sleeping bags, tents and clothing. And bicycle frames.

Which brings us back to her latest two-wheel creation. Its features include a leather saddle “made by a little 95-year-old Italian gentleman,” lugs made from hemp fiber canvas set with a soy-based marine resin like boat-builders use, and a cut-to-fit seat mast that is not adjustable but which adds to “an extremely strong and explosively fast bike frame.”

“Two hundred years from now that bike will still be rideable,” said Carter.

To learn more about her creations, check out Elizabeth Carter on Facebook.

Reach Laura Wiens at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

AT THE MUSEUM

The Gallery of Arts & Culture is now open seven days a week, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. every day except Sunday, noon–6.

The works of more than 40 local artists are currently on display.

A Chamber of Commerce mixer will be held there Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m., featuring live music and refreshments.