Jim Carpenter: The man who built Eugene Skinner

EUGENE, Ore. -- When the downtown Eugene Public Library was being built in the early 2000s, City of Eugene regulations required that the project to have one percent of the direct construction costs for works of art.

Interested artists submitted proposals, and judges looked for something that would compliment the design of the library.

Jim Carpenter, a Eugene resident for 25 years, was selected to build "Leif's Dream" - a sculpture based on a dream his 9-year-old son about the fairy tale Billy Goat's Gruff. The wood and brass sculpture and bench is a portion of a bridge with Leif waking up on his bed and seeing the goat that knocked down the troll into the water.

Carpenter had to disassemble his sculpture in his studio to reassemble it in the library's lobby. "To have it come apart and move and go back up, it's kind of like a Chinese puzzle," said Carpenter.

The second sculpture Carpenter did for the library was "Eugene Skinner" in honor of the city's founder. Doing the sculpture was tricky for Carpenter because he only had two photos of his subject and he needed to determine Skinner's height.

"If you look at the photos of him standing there, holding a rifle, he just seems like not a very tall guy," Carpenter told Oregon NewsLab in their Making A Difference series.

A gun dealer told Carpenter that the distance between the trigger and the butt of the rifle was constant in those times, so he used that measurement to estimate Skinner's height, which was around five foot, four inches.

"When you look at the work Jim produced for the design they are integrated as part of the architecture," said Randall Nishimura, Senior Associate for Robertson Sherwood Architects. "Jim certainly took the spirit of the commission very seriously and he knew that he was helping to contribute to an overall experience."

Carpenter, born in 1949, was raised in Iowa, attended the University of Iowa, and had various jobs like baking bread, working in a sculpture foundry, and even worked as a morgue attendant before moving to Eugene. Carpenter didn't have a job when he moved to Eugene, so he decided to build instruments, starting with a violin that he considered junk. Today, he makes professional handmade cigar box guitars, hurdy gurdys, and banjos and occasionally sells them to the Buy and Sell Music Center downtown.

Carpenter has also done illustrations for the Grateful Dead. Some of his works can be found in the books, "The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics" and "The Water of Life."

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