Kurt M. Robinette (b.1965) is an award winning wildlife sculptor and author. He resides in Brigham City, Utah.
Since early childhood, Kurt has been passionate about his love for the outdoors and especially birds. He has been a licensed falconer most of his life, training dozens of hawks and falcons to hunt in cooperation with him over the years.
He has published numerous articles on birds of prey and wildlife sculpture. Kurt has also authored several publications on the work of Greg Woodard, a World Champion wildlife sculptor, fellow falconer, and close friend of over thirty years.
Robinette is well known for his artistic expression in bird sculpture. He is especially well known for his renditions of birds of prey.
Kurt Robinette sculptures are in collections around the world.
Education: BA 1990, MA 1999
Much Longer version:
Kurt Robinette: The Artistic Journey
This may be perhaps the exact moment my love for birds started.I was only three years old. My uncle caught a sparrow in a bush and put it in my cupped hands. My mother took this photo as I opened my hands to let it go. It sat there for a very short time and then flew off...my love of birds has definitely been life-long.
As a ten year old, earning money by doing extra chores, I saved enough to buy this bird identification book. Within a few months, I had all of the birds in North America memorized. (Couldn't identify all of them now!)
My grandfather built a live catch bird trap for me around this time as a birthday present. I trapped English sparrows, starlings, and Oregon juncos studying them up close and then releasing them. Much of the money I earned picking cherries or mowing lawns was spent on bird feeders and bird food.
By age twelve, I knew that I wanted to be a falconer and studied any book that I could find about falconry. When I asked my Dad if I could get a hawk, he said no...(Which wasn't a big surprise..) He wasn't necessarily against having some animals around, (we had a few) but the thought of having a young boy with a large bird of prey wasn't something he would even consider!
Falconry would have to wait. So I settled for a parakeet, and then got some racing pigeons, and then a few years later; game birds.
I also learned how to taxidermy birds and practiced on ducks, geese, and pheasants we shot while hunting with my Dad and brothers. This gave me a chance to learn about bird anatomy and feathering.
This was the first pheasant I ever shot. I affectionately named him "George." He definitely ain't pretty, but he has survived over forty years since I stuffed him, so I think I will hang on to him.
Fourteen years old, this little warbler came and landed on my hand for a while and then flew off. Totally made my week!
As a teen, I was working in a local grocery store bagging groceries when a customer mentioned that there were a whole bunch of hunters with hawks in the park up the street. During my lunch, I drove up and found hundreds of falconers meeting in our town for a North American meet. This happened to be the North American Falconers Association (NAFA), and they had chosen my home town of Brigham City, Utah for their annual meet that year. I was blown away looking at all of the incredible raptors on their perches; kestrels, merlins, prairie falcons, red-tailed hawks, goshawks, sharp-shinned hawks, cooper's hawks, peregrine falcons, and even a few white gyrfalcons.
White Gyrfalcon at a North American Falconers Association meet.
I knew all of the birds, but had not seen many of these species in real life...the sight of all of these incredible raptors was amazing! They were like celebrities to me! I knew I HAD to become a falconer...and as soon as possible.
Though I was somewhat shy at the time, I asked every falconer I could talk to about the sport and wanted to know who I could learn from to become one of them.
I was eventually introduced to a local master class falconer. He was a great mentor and put up with me and my often pretty silly questions. To legally become a falconer, you have to be an apprentice under an experienced falconer. I enjoyed learning about the birds and the sport, I couldn't think of much else. My Dad realized that I wouldn't give up on my dream so he agreed to let me get a bird...eventually...
My first bird was a kestrel. This bird was too small to be much of a hunting bird (mice, sparrows, and grasshoppers!) but I learned how to train a bird and learned the basics of falconry. I loved it!
Years later I trapped a red-tailed hawk, and then a few years after that I got a Harris' hawk. Each one taught me many things and I enjoyed every aspect of being a falconer.
An immature Red-tailed hawk that I trapped from the wild and trained back in the 80's.
The biggest thing I quickly learned was that falconry was not a hobby but a lifestyle. These incredible birds demand time and energy. They are designed to fly, hunt, and must be active. They definitely are not pets, their wild nature remains in the falconry relationship. I became a falconer because I loved seeing these magnificent birds up close and personal and enjoyed the association of co-hunting with a bird of prey and watching them do what they are designed to do...hunt. One scholarly falconer termed falconry "specialized bird watching." I couldn't agree more.
As a falconer, I get to see nature up close and personal in a way that very few others get to. Over the years, I have realized that my enjoyment of the sport was never about catching quarry (though it is awesome when your bird succeeds!) But it's more about the flight of these birds and working together with them in a very unique relationship that becomes the reward for me.
Over these many years, I would have numerous falcons and hawks including prairie falcons, Harris' hawks, a ferruginous hawk and several of my absolute personal favorite bird of prey; the incredible peregrine falcon.
An immature Harris's hawk.
A mature anatum peregrine falcon.
A very young peregrine/prairie (hybrid) falcon.
My family has enjoyed (or mostly just put up with) my falconry obsession over all of these years.
Our daughter back in the day with her new found buddy, a baby prairie falcon.
One of our sons with one of our peregrine falcons many years ago.
Another son carries a gyrfalcon at a falconry meet in 2005.
Over time, I met many other local falconers that had the same passion for the birds, the outdoors, and nature. One was Greg Woodard, a falconer and professional wildlife artist. I raised pheasants and quail to feed my birds and he wanted to buy some quail for his Cooper's hawk.
Greg Woodard a while back with his gray phased gyrfalcon.
Greg with his immature silver phased gyrfalcon; 2005
When I delivered the frozen birds to his studio, he was working on one of his bird carvings. I knew he was an artist but was not prepared for how incredible his work was. I was absolutely blown away! He carved raptors out of wood. These weren't your average bird carvings. Greg was an award winning champion carver and was already known as one of the very best in the world in carving birds of prey. He eventually won the "Best in the World" title with his incredible pieces. Every feather was intricately carved and detailed. He made his own glass eyes by hand so he could paint them himself and portray them as they really were in nature. He would then paint these carvings in fine art oil paints. His works of art left me speechless; I was absolutely stunned by these pieces. I became an instant fan (pretty much a groupie) and wanted to learn about his processes.
At first there was no thought that I could ever become an artist myself, I just loved learning about it and enjoyed the passion he showed in these incredible birds. I really enjoyed following his work, and we became very good friends while talking falconry, birds, and art. Our close friendship has spanned over 30 years. (Where does the time go?!)
Greg Woodard: Cooper's hawk (wood)
Within a short time, Greg asked if I could write a demonstration article about his work for a bird carving magazine. Because of his status, many others around the world wanted to understand his techniques. I happily agreed to do it. This first article was published in the summer of 1994. It included my writing and photos as he painted one of his pieces, an aplomado falcon.
The first publication: Greg Woodard paints an aplomado falcon.
I loved every minute of it. To sit and take photos while he worked on this incredible piece and ask him questions about his process ignited a passion in me. At one point, he must have sensed that I wanted to try carving for myself. He handed me a piece of tupelo wood and another addiction began.
I wrote numerous other articles about his work over the years, including two books on his techniques. In each I learned more and more. I also wrote more than a dozen magazine articles about various bird of prey species as a reference for other carvers, and other articles about Greg's work.
This latest publication contains two of my articles about birds of prey; The Harris' hawk, and the Prairie falcon.
Though I enjoyed the years I spent carving in wood, I didn't enjoy the sawdust and some of the limitations of this medium. I would often carve a piece and THEN see a different direction that I wanted to take. It was just a personal thing (other don't have this issue) that would frustrate me at times. "WHY didn't I see that BEFORE I whacked that piece of wood off?! Sheesh!! I often joked that my project was an eagle when I started and then ended up becoming a hummingbird by the time I kept cutting off wood correcting all of my mistakes!
An early peregrine falcon wood carving (commissioned piece)
Kurt Robinette: American Kestrel (wood) (Commissioned piece back in the 90's)
Bronzes and Resins
I would often work out my projects in clay, and then used the clay as my model as I worked in wood for the final piece. I loved being able to modify the clay as I worked on it and wished for my clay piece to be the original instead of just my model. At some point, I decided to switch to oil clay as my medium. I did a few bronzes and some resin castings. I really enjoyed the bronze process, but missed the element of painting my pieces for realism.
A bald eagle oil clay (became a bronze)
A couple of other bronze sculptures I did during this time.
A resin casting required pouring resin into a mold made from the original clay sculpture. This meant that I was somewhat limited on what kind of detail and undercutting I could do or it wouldn't mold or pour properly. This modified my poses and cramped the work I wanted to be able to do. (Though I enjoyed being able to paint the finished resin pieces.) I continued looking for a solution that I would be satisfied with.
Kurt Robinette: 'American Kestrel" (resin)
Kurt Robinette: "Eastern Screech Owl" (Resin)
Fired Clay (Terracotta)
While attending a wildlife art show in Easton Maryland back in 2006, I met Paul Brunelle. Paul is an oil painter and bird sculptor from Aylmer Ontario, Canada. He sculpts his birds in water based fired clay. He was the first one I had seen do this. I asked him all kinds of questions about his process and work while I was at the show over those few days.
Years later I took the opportunity to travel to Paul's Canadian studio and spend a few days learning from his experience with water based clay and bird sculpture. The trip was a very enjoyable one, we had a great time talking birds and art. The trip also helped me determine that stoneware clay was now my medium of choice.
Now...and the future...
It has been well over 27 years since I first started creating birds in some form. Being a bird sculptor is now a solid part of who I am. Even at times when I am not sculpting, I am often thinking about current projects and planning out future pieces. I enjoy the process; researching the bird, thinking about the composition, roughing out the base and bird, detailing feathers, giving it form, and especially the painting. Painting and color blending brings life to a piece of clay. Completing a sculpture is a fantastic feeling and brings a great sense of accomplishment.
Since the kids are growing up and some fully actually "adulting," they apparently have lives beyond home. (WHAT?!!!...How did this happen?!)
I will enjoy all the time I can get with them, but when they are doing other things, I guess I will have to fill my time doing more art...
Yep, I'm the old one... (Love these guys...am I a lucky dad or what?!)
The artistic journey continues!