Kit Carson, Artist

Kit Carson is Alive and Well and Living in New River, AZ (at least for a couple more weeks)

Last night, Brent told me about a yard sale in our neighborhood where he spent two hours going through jewelry-making tools and supplies, including precious stones and gems.

“The house belongs to an artist named Kit Carson,” Brent said. “That’s really his name.”

Kit Carson is a well-known Arizona artist who sketches, paints, makes large sculptures out of rusted metal, and handcrafts jewelry. He moved to New River 25 years ago onto a 2-acre plot where he designed and built his stone house, complete with metal framing around interior windows and doors.

Brent, thrilled with his haul from yesterday (particularly the price) spreads his treasures over our dining room table. Some are pieces of Kit’s jewelry in various stages of completion which Brent plans to use in his own jewelry one day. His jewelry-making supplies are in his office closet and eventually he’ll bring them out, set them up and cast silver and gold pieces with inlaid stones.

“He’s having the yard sale all weekend,” Brent says. The way he describes Kit’s house and yard makes me want to go.

When we turn onto 20th Street, the big yard sale sign from yesterday is gone. We park at a trail head in front of Kit’s house, to keep his yard open, and find him on the front porch. Kit is tall and slender, wearing sunglasses and a hat against the determined morning sun as he organizes things.

“Your sign is gone,” Brent tells Kit.

“Really?” Kit says, “Hey, I recognize you from yesterday.”

“Yeah,” Brent says, “and I brought my wife this time.”

Kit’s friend Linda is coming over to help with the sale and he says he’ll wait until she gets there before replacing the sign. The missing sign is a great opportunity for us to take a very careful look around the yard before other people begin to arrive.

Kit’s house sits on the edge of his land facing Tonto National Forest, a glorious desert valley that rises up to tall mountains and plateaus as far as the eye can see. The house sits on a rise and across his yard is a half-round metal building looking like a military barracks, with a wood shelter built over the top, and barn doors that enclose the building. His workshop is in the barracks. Three feet from the workshop is an art studio with white walls and a large table down the center, a big picture window facing Tonto. Attached to the studio, and connected by a door, is a garage. The studio and garage have items for sale, but I’m more interested in the neglected antiques scattered about the grounds.

Kit recently sold his house because his “need to be in Prescott, his hometown, right now is more important than me being in New River.” When the house sold, he told the new owner he’d clean up the yard. Thus, the yard sale.


Kit-House
The 1,200 square-foot house that Kit Carson designed and built.

Kit will continue to make art in Prescott, and so he’s taking a lot of things with him. Those items are marked NFS for Not For Sale. Of course, they’re the pieces everyone wants!

I’m looking at auto parts when he opens an old Frigidaire next to me and says, “I think I want to keep this. Put in a couple of glass shelves and a light and it will make a great cabinet for storage.” It’s a fine old fridge with curved lines and a handle that works securely. The patina is perfect. I notice a $150 price tag. Not only does Kit keep finding things he wants to keep, he tells me he actually took a couple of things out of a customer’s hands the day before, refusing to sell them.

Obviously, even though he’s made the mental decision to move to Prescott, it’s emotionally hard to leave his custom-built home of 25 years.

In his 67 years, Kit collected metal pieces from everywhere he traveled. “Every piece you see out here,” Kit says, “I loaded into my Nissan truck from somewhere and hauled it here.” All over the yard, Kit has organized the pieces, mostly metal, into his “Library of Visual Solutions,” which includes gears of every size from every type of machine; automotive parts; discs from tractors; aluminum serving dishes; hubcaps; scrap metal; chunks of colored glass; drill bits; lighting fixtures, ceiling tiles; mid-century lawn chairs; oil cans and on and on.

Everything is old and covered in rust. I carefully go through boxes on the porch of the workshop then wander out back and spend the next two-and-a-half hours sifting through the Library of Visual Solutions. A nearby blooming Palo Verde has attracted so many bees, they provide a steady buzz as the sun warms the surrounding metal. The weather is ideal for being outside on a Saturday morning. High of 78 and a breeze. I find a white box and stick in a tiny, old porcelain heater used for target practice. Then I find another tiny, porcelain heater, turquoise and not as beaten up. It still has the little door on hinges, though the door is rusted. Into the box it goes.


LibraryofVisualSolutions
The Library of Visual Solutions.

Here’s a wire light cover, and here’s a rusted oil can with no bottom. What about this metal dashboard with speedometer? Wonder what kind of car it’s from. Into the white box. Metal drawer pulls go in. A piece of rusted wood stove, two rusted ceiling tiles and a railroad lantern (unfortunately without the glass globe) go in.

‘These items, very farmhouse chic as popularized by Joanna and Chip Gaines, would sell so well on Etsy,’ I think. Maybe I should start an Etsy store as my cousin Sonua suggested. She thinks people would go crazy for photos of my cat in my miniature dollhouse. She’s probably right. Who doesn’t love a damn grown cat trying to fit into a miniature dollhouse? I could sell cats in dollhouses and rusted stuff.

“This is the light area,” Kit says, indicating the ground around him as he picks up a section of a mid-century modern floor lamp, the kind with cone-shaped light fixtures that can point up or down. “I used one of these fixtures on my outdoor shower. Go look in my backyard and check it out.”

Clearly, Kit has a sense of humor that comes across in his art. A toaster sculpture has a butter knife wedged into one slot. A giant tractor, at least 20 feet long and 7 feet wide, sitting in his front yard was bought by a client who lives in Cave Creek. She plans to place it between two large Saguaros in her yard. “There’s a tricycle on the very back,” I point out to Kit, “in case it’s not supposed to be there.”

“The tricycle goes on the very front of the rig,” Kit says, “to act as the new power source.”

I walk up to his house as suggested and admire the stone work. The deep porch faces Tonto National Forest and features old lantern lighting fixtures. He’s topped off his side banister rail with chunks of colored glass and laid tiles into the concrete walkway.


Kit-FrontPorch
The front porch entrance.

At the back door, which has a decorative, one-of-a-kind metal screen door, a vertical window is filled with colorful glass pieces. Kit randomly placed colored pieces of glass in the mortar between stones underneath the window so it looks like they’re tumbling out of the window to the ground.

Next to the window is the outdoor shower with the lamp fixture over the shower head. In the back, over his patio, he’s welded gears and hubcaps and bicycle wheels to make an interesting eave. His house is his art. And his art is inspired by Spain’s Gaudi (who believed in making things by hand) and Art Nouveau imagery.

As the white box fills up, I find a metal wire container that’s a prize in itself and begin filling it: six Japanese glass floats that Kit picked up on the beach near Homer, Alaska; a deep silver platter weighing a couple of pounds and tarnished black; a large brass bed knob; an acrylic drawer pull with brass fittings; a white enamel light fixture; two child’s chairs, rusted, which will make great plant stands once I replace the seat with mosaic tiles; several car taillights with real glass and metal casings; an antique refrigerator handle; a mid-century modern lamp once painted, now rusted but ready for re-wiring; and my favorite find, two cast aluminum sconces with scroll work fronts.


Kit-Sconces
The aluminum sconces are my favorite things (and need cleaning) but I also love the little round turquoise heater with it’s rusted door, and the mid-century modern lamp for its shape, even though the paint has rusted away. Someone used the little green enamel heater for shooting practice, but it will make a unique planter or vase by placing a glass cylinder inside. The antique boat handles and the old refrigerator handle all speak to me.

Etsy buyers would go nuts!

Linda arrives and begins helping. She’s very thin, a retired school teacher and friend of Kit who once rented Kit’s art studio for two years just to sit on the porch and gaze at theTonto National Forest. “He’s a very famous artist, you know,” Linda tells me. She points to a rust-covered lighting fixture Kit welded together with scroll work and a fleur de lis as centerpiece. The price is $575. “That’s a deal,” she says. “Some of his clients will pay up to $10,000 for a commissioned piece like that.”

Everything needs cleaning, but Brent cautions me to not clean too much for fear it would remove the gorgeous patina. “That’s why Kit has these things outside,” he says, “so they’ll rust, and so the bronze and copper pieces will turn. If you burnish too much, you burnish away what makes them valuable.”


Kit-MoreJunk
More junk, including the Japanese glass floats, wire basket and rusted children’s chairs that I plan to convert into mosaic plant stands.

I hold up a very heavy, rusted item that looks like a big, round microphone from the 1930s. “What’s this?” I ask. “That is a burner,” Brent says. “The gas goes in through here and the flames come out of these perforations.” It looks like a sculptural piece to me.

“Can I use your sandblaster to remove the rust? What will it look like?”

“Sandblasting will remove the rust and all you’ll see is the cast iron underneath. It’ll be gray.”

“Will this last a while or rust out?” I ask.

“That will outlast you,” Brent says. “That will out last you by five times.”

Brent and I daydream together sometimes, talking about one day building a greenhouse in the backyard with an attached She Shed for my writing space. He’s looking for fun pieces to display, and maybe even lighting fixtures to use in the greenhouse. The aluminum sconces I place in the wire basket will be perfect on either side of the She Shed door, inside or out.

After Kit runs up to 20th Street and Circle Mountain Road and re-posts his big yard sale sign, more and more people begin to stream in, heading into the art studio and garage, where Kit’s expensive art pieces are on display. Some men wonder out of doors through the Library of Visual Solutions, but most folks are inside missing the real show outside!

However, Kit is a musician, too, and his electric guitar is set up in his studio, so he turns it on and plays a little rock, the perfect background music for treasure hunting. So there really is a show inside, too!


Kit-GreenHeater
This little enamel gas heater is probably my second favorite thing, after the sconces. And it still works, though I wouldn’t enjoy the live flame or fumes.

Brent finds a gorgeous, handmade box, about 5 x 4 x 3, made with dove tail joints and pegs and solid-working brass hardware. He’s going through all the jewelry items again, which are mostly in tiny zip-lock bags, and puts his picks into the box. I see a hair barrette made of brass with a craved design and put it into Brent’s box. Then I find an intriguing brass circle and put it in there, too.

When Brent shows Kit the box, to settle on a price, Kit picks up the brass circle and says, “I cast that from a level case. Then I put the level it in, and attach the whole piece as a belt buckle. You can tell if you’re level.” He laughs. I like it, and knowing it’s his handiwork makes it more meaningful.

Brent takes the brass barrette out of the box and places it on the table, not realizing I had put it in there. Kit picks it up and says, “I made that when I was about 22 years old,” and he puts it back in Brent’s box. The barrette has a very delicate carving of twisting ribbon. Considering it a piece of art, I’m proud to have it.

As I’m taking one final look around, Kit comes over and shows me a small black plastic level, the type he used to cast the brass circle. And then he puts it into my hand and walks away.


Version 2
Kit’s custom back patio.

We load our goodies in the truck and head south on 20th, bumping along on the dirt road listening to all the metal items clanging, moaning and squealing in the jostle. I feel like Granny sitting in her rocker on top of the Beverly Hillbillies truck crammed with their rustic possessions.

“Dang, Honey,” Brent says, “sounds like The Grape of Wrath in here,” and I can’t help but burst out laughing!


RESOURCES

  • Kit Carson – Craft in America Video: http://www.craftinamerica.org/shorts/kit-carson-segment/I really like this 7-minute video because we see New River. It’s shot in his yard and the Tonto National Forest, which is basically his front yard. Kit does a great job of explaining his inspirations and process. Views of his property show his Library of Visual Solutions, his stone house and workshop.

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