Jun 05, 2023
Lynden’s Chet Noll makes butterflies from wood
Lynden resident Chet Noll with his butterfly art on display at Jansen Art
Lynden resident Chet Noll with his butterfly art on display at Jansen Art Center in Lynden through July 7. (Bill Helm/Lynden Tribune)
'Playful, yet refined '
LYNDEN — Pretty much his entire life, Chet Noll has worked with wood.
Under the watchful eye of his father, Noll first learned at age 4 how to use power tools.
"I started using power tools in my father's wood shop, standing on a wooden box in front of belt sanders and band saws, spending hours making myself toys and whatever I could imagine," he said.
At first he learned enough to make his own toys, Noll recalled, as well as gifts for family. By age 11, Noll was making butterflies from wood. The first was for his mother, for Mother's Day. It was an Atlas Moth. Looking back, Noll remembers he was "intrigued by the notion that the colors of the woods in the scrap bin were the same as the colors of the moth I had in mind to make."
"Knowing that I needed wings in a mirror image, I fit the pieces of wood together like a puzzle and butterflied them," Noll said. Butterflies made of wood, Noll's work, are on display at the Jansen Art Center in Lynden. The process he uses to make the butterflies is the same process he learned as a youngster.
Lindsey Gerhard, art director at Jansen, said woodworking is a medium "we don't get to showcase in the juried exhibits as often as I would like."
"Chet's work has such a fine craftsmanship — there is such a delicacy to them and they’re playful and refined at the same time," Gerhard said. "The softness of the wood was fun for our installation team to experiment with, placing them all throughout the building in different lighting scenarios. I love where they are exhibited, upstairs outside the Chamber Hall. In our old building there is a bit of bounce in the wooden floors, so when you walk by the butterflies seem to flutter ever so slightly."
Noll calls his work free-standing hardwood marquetry, says that's "one of many terms I’ve invented in an attempt to classify my work."
"None of the traditional terms really tell the whole story," he said. "Other terms such as intarsia or inlay might be more recognizable, but in my case are incomplete. Normally this type of work would be fastened to the top of a wooden box or wall piece. Free-standing describes how the work floats above the base and moves with a breeze."
Noll explained that he makes the butterflies from exotic hardwoods, cuts them from two-inch stock and pieced together in a thick block like a jigsaw puzzle.
"I use the natural colors of the woods to color the butterfly and use no stains or dyes," he said. "Once the block of wings are complete, the block is sliced into thin pairs of wings. A single block yields 10 pairs of wings."
About his pieces on display at The J, Noll said he "set out to capture the beautiful lines and symmetry of species of butterflies from the wild."
"Nature's seemingly frivolous indulgence in the beautiful display of butterfly patterning actually derives from practical considerations of survival, mimicry, camouflage and the architecture of flight," he said. "I strive to capture the fragility of a butterfly's wings in something as dense and immovable as wood."
Amanda Slusser, marketing manager at Jansen Art Center, said the butterfly pieces "are very unique and they stand out amongst the traditional art displayed on the walls."
"I’m still learning all of the things Chet specializes in," Slusser said. "I’ve heard he is a man of many talents."
Over the years, Noll has been commissioned to build furniture, coffee tables, replicas of period harpsichords and pianos. He has also welded metal sculptures, written musical compositions and designed computer software.
"It's hard to remember the wide variety of work I’ve done in my 60 years of doing this," he said.
Most Fridays near the end of the day, Noll plays the Jansen Art Center's Schimmel grand piano.
As if making delicate art from such strong materials isn't enough, Noll taught piano for 47 years when he, his wife Joyce Wonderly and his brother Landon moved to Lynden in 2021.
The former resident of Wrightwood, California, Noll recently joined Jansen's board of directors.
Gerhard said Noll "brings years of experience working in a music and art center in California, a keen knowledge of technology and current best practices, and a very peaceful energy to the board."
The Spring Juried Exhibit is on display until July 7 at the Jansen Art Center, 321 Front St., Lynden. Entrance is free. Juried exhibits show off the talent in the local community with pieces selected by a rotating jury. Visit jansenartcenter.org for more information.
-- Contact Bill Helm at [email protected].Lynden resident Chet Noll with his butterfly art on display at Jansen Art Center in Lynden through July 7. at Jansen Art Center in Lynden through July 7. Playful, yet refined '