About Stephen Mark Paulsen

Stephen Mark Paulsen

Stephen Paulsen has been painting, sculpting, and woodworking as long as he can remember. The son of an expert woodworker, he grew up with the sound of the saw and the smell of new chips.

In 1963, at the age of 15, he had his first gallery showing in Palo Alto, California, exhibiting wood sculpture and wood-cut prints.

He studied art, drama, and literature at the University of California at Santa Barbara from 1965-71, supporting himself through the manufacture and sale of carved and inlaid musical instruments.

In 1971 he moved to the Pacific Northwest, where he learned the principles and practice of logging, millwork, and the manufacture of lumber. By 1973, he was back in Santa Barbara, where for three years he worked as an in-house cabinetmaker for a large industrial firm. There, he designed and built all manner of furniture, fixtures, and fine tooling cases, greatly expanding his knowledge of tools, techniques, and materials.

The creation of a small studio business, and increasing sales to galleries and through local art festivals, made it possible in 1976 to leave the corporation and devote full time to custom work. Joining with fellow woodworker, Paulsen opened Paulsen and Gruenberg Woodworks, specializing in boxes and furnishings in exotic woods, as well as parts and prototypes for classic and custom automobiles. During this period, he developed a series of complex jewelry boxes and in 1978 originated his wooden scent bottles.

Going solo in 1980, Paulsen opened Paulsen Fine Art Woodworks, dedicated to the creation of one-of-a-kind pieces. Turned, carved, machined, and inlaid scent bottles soon gained regional, then national attention. Articles appeared in American Craft and Fine Woodworking magazines, then in House Beautiful, Vogue, Sunset, and Life. By 1986, although he was making fewer and fewer scent bottles, they had been featured in German, Russian, Greek, Japanese, American, and Romanian publications, and had been exhibited in museums from Paris to Moscow and around the world.

1985 saw the appearance of something new in American Woodwork—Paulsen’s unique wall constructions. Part assemblage, part diorama, but altogether something very new, the wall constructions allowed Paulsen the latitude to take his woodworking to new levels of refinement. Turnings could be made that wouldn’t be safe in anyone’s hands. Tableaux could be created and frozen in detail; there was room for carving and inlay and painting, any approach and any material easily came into play. It was Paulsen’s dream, and he dreamed it.

By 1991, more than 300 of the wall constructions were in existence. At this time, Paulsen took two years to explore some of the painting and sculptural ideas that the excavation of the wall constructions had revealed. Dragons and spirits resulted.

By 1993, a new style of wall construction was born. Refined, focused, with a new simplicity, these pieces have found an appreciation so wide that it surprises their author. Who dreams on…