KURTIS MAJOR | LOCUST HOUSE | West Marin
“I think food’s the best. It’s the only art form that uses all five senses,“ says Kurtis Major.
Kurtis originally hails from the arid lands and turquoise waters of Point Dume in Southern California. He is a metallurgist and print maker, and with his brother Scott, he founded Birdview Distillery, which is renowned for its prickly pear brandy, El Castor. Kurtis calls himself a “glorified printmaker.” Indeed, both the additive and reductive processes of printmaking translate into all of his work. “In terms of texture, printmaking is the origin. It informs how I work backwards conceptually in order to figure out how to make something aesthetically appealing.”
“What is most distinct in his work is the meeting of man-made objects with the natural world at the point of decomposition, when those objects start to take on organic shapes again.”
For Kurtis, creating is about the process: how different facets of art cohere as a single, finished piece, whether in making jewelry, working with paper, or fermenting food. What is most distinct in his work is the meeting of man-made objects with the natural world at the point of decomposition, when those objects start to take on organic shapes again. Kurtis cites rusting metal as an example. “That piece of metal was either forged, cast, or made into a rectilinear shape,” says Kurtis. “When it’s left in nature, it becomes iron again, and it’s no longer a man-made thing.” The basal nature of decomposition is at the core of Kurtis’s life in West Marin, which he says has a “special energy,” with its steady rise and fall of temperatures, the cycle of life and death manifest in the steady beachside arrival of kelp, or the decay of abandoned houses.
The intersection of the man-made and the natural world is also showcased in Kurtis’s jewelry, another of his exploratory crafts that ties together the recurrent, clean, simple lines of nature with his own unique approaches to metallurgy. His rings, crafted from metals and crystals, reflect his love of the surrounding landscape. For Kurtis, jewelry is immortal, remaining even after the artist passes.
Outside, we sit on large slabs of fallen Monterey pine—Kurtis refers to them as “future printmaking blocks.” He tells us how his distillery came to be: a seven-year endeavor that started with honey-sweetened plum wine led to a search for a prolific plant native to Southern California that would be ideal for artisan liquor. Once they found the prickly pear cactus, they surfed through trial and error until they created a satisfactory spirit. After starting their distillery, he and Scott partnered with a distributor this year. “People ask where I buy the spirits, and I say, ‘What do you mean? We make it all. We distill it ourselves.’ If you come by, I’m probably the one putting the labels on the bottles.”