Get ready to Meet the Makers … of the coolest fashion and home goods in town, that is. In this occasional series, we take you into the workshops of the creators behind that stuff you've been coveting.
Local artist Eric Wallentine does more than paint landscapes of his home state of Utah: He makes crossbows. Don’t worry, he won’t put an arrow through your heart—his pieces are made to shoot exclusively wine corks. IM targeted him for an interview, and, thankfully, he didn’t shoot us down.
I had always been interested in primitive art, especially archery. But I remember one day I was watching the Discovery Channel with my son, who was 5 or 6 at the time. We were watching medieval battle reenactments, and he saw a crossbow and said “I want that!” So I said, “Okay, let’s make one.”
So you didn’t start making them because of Game of Thrones, then?
No, I have lots of friends interested in that show and medieval things. But stuff like renaissance fairs and art shows where people make cheap rubber-band shooters isn’t my thing. It’s such a specialized craft. I like staying small and getting people who are looking for a unique handcrafted piece.
How long have you been making these?
The first one I made for my son was sometime around 2005, so it’s been almost 10 years. For a while, it was just a hobby. I would show them to people and then make them one. I finally arrived at a basic design I could reproduce, but usually I just make them one at a time. I spend probably six to eight hours working on each one. But the higher-end ones take a couple of weeks.
Are the crossbows accurate?
They can be very accurate when you have matched corks with the same size, weight, and dimensions. Lots of people save their wine corks. The most preferable corks to use with the crossbows are newer composite corks, because they have rounded edges and are consistent in size and weight. Accuracy improves with practice, and with any shooting sport, it’s easier if you have consistent projectiles. Lots of shooters and archers will make their own bullets or arrows. I’m able to hit a small gong 20 feet away pretty consistently. Gongs, pots, and pans make good targets because they ding when you hit them.
Where can we find the bows?
I don’t do much work with retail stores, so almost all of the crossbows I sell I do through my website, corkbo.com. I like to get to know the customer and do face-to-face deliveries, at least locally. I do deliver all over the nation and sometimes internationally, though I don’t know if the bows are legal in New York City. The higher-end model, the Sloshedbuckler, comes with a custom-made box with corks and a gong. And that’s nice because it looks like you’re bringing three or four bottles of wine somewhere in a box, but it’s actually a crossbow.
What are some of your artistic influences?
I mostly like art that is ancient, prehistoric, by artists we’ll never know. You go to art school, and they talk about art history but completely leave out prehistoric art. The whole craft of ancient artifacts is very interesting to me. I’m doing a summer camp at Orchard School where kids will make their own bows, arrows, and quiver. And they’ll make a traditional bow, not a compound one like the one Rambo used.
What other things do you make?
I paint on canvas, mostly landscapes. I’m originally from Utah, so it’s fun to put myself back there from time to time, even if I have to work mostly with photos. I like to paint things from nature, things that are larger than life. I also help with the Children’s Museum haunted house each year, creating props. Last year we even did 3D effects. But what I like most is primitive artwork.