WHEAT – This is called a silent art.
Unlike a musician, there are no words or music. Unlike an actor, the voice is mute. Unlike a dancer, there is no movement, yet his art moves us all.
Wheatland artist Carl Jensen paints and sculpts and amazes people; those who have been lucky enough to see the creations that originate in his thought patterns and magically emerge from his fingertips.
Some would say it has the ability to capture the past.
Whether that moment is a moment in the flame of a campfire or a Marine’s salute to a fallen comrade where no words are spoken, these moments speak volumes.
“To portray people and animals used throughout my life,” Jensen writes when explaining his life purpose. “In my art, I want to create a sculpture or a painting inspired by memory or artistic inspiration.”
Born in Lewistown, Montana halfway between Billings and Canada in a town that has been dubbed one of the happiest towns in America. By being creative, you may be able to spot the genius that started popping out of himself as a young boy.
“I loved it,” Jensen said. “I absolutely loved it. My dad had a ranch south of Lewistown. I used to take my saddle horse and go rainbow trout fishing in Spring Creek. the neighbor raised cattle and he used to take me to cowboy for him, when i was 12 i got $7 a day to cowboy for him.
A cowboy. A fisherman. A breeder. A disciplined work ethic and a creative side to his talents. Of all the open doors he had available to him, he decided to walk through the door of the US Airforce and enlist in 1956. He spent four years in the military. It came out two months before they made it career critical. Without this timing, he would have had to go to Vietnam.
He completed his stint in the military working on a base in Bermuda before finishing and returning home to his beloved Montana.
“I’ve lived an enchanted life,” Jensen said. “I really. Rather than staying in Bermuda, I have to be honest with you, I really wanted to go home.
In addition to his service to Uncle Sam, he also worked on the railroad for a time as a firefighter.
When he got off duty and hung up his military helmet and fireman’s cap, he got a job with US Gypsum. A company now known as the premier wall panel distributor in the United States.
From Gypsum, Jensen was able to hang on to the Boeing Aerospace Company.
“I was at Boeing for 14 and a half years,” Jensen said. “When they had problems with the first three 747s, I was sent back to Seattle to work there. I was there for a year and a half, but just before we got back to Seattle, we had a dispatch center in Chugwater.
And while Jensen says it’s a funny story of how he met his wife, it’s a story that filled that void in his life and she became one of his biggest supporters in his life. In some love stories, you hear about the couple feeling like they’re walking on air or having their heads in the clouds.
It was literal for Janel Foster and Jensen who met 10,000 feet in the air.
“It’s a funny business,” Jensen said like it was yesterday. “I actually got on a plane in Billings and was flying to Cheyenne. She was on that plane and it was an evening flight and there was hardly anyone else on the plane. We had to talking and I’d never seen her before and I said, ‘I’m out of Kimball right now, but I’m going to be moving to Wheatland because we’re going to be moving from Chugwater. And she said, ‘well look- me when you get there.
Turns out Janel (soon to be Jensen) worked at a bank in Wheatland.
“We just hit it off,” Jensen said. “Actually, a friend of mine, he was chasing her at the same time. I beat his timing and I think he might still be crazy about it. My wife, she was a very attractive woman. She was a rodeo queen and she was very active here.
Janel Foster grew up on a ranch just north of Wheatland called “Little Cottonwood”, according to Jensen before moving closer to Wheatland later in life and buying smaller farms.
After the first meeting, Janel found out that Carl was an artist and painter, and she discovered that he lived in a basement apartment in Wheatland.
“She was really fascinated,” Jensen said. “Throughout her life she has been a kind of wind behind my sail. I asked her if she wanted to pose for a portrait and she said “yeah I will” and the rest is history. She came to my house and we started talking and we got along very well. I had only known her for two and a half months and we got married.
Boeing had moved the couple to Seattle for work, and Jensen said it also turned out to be a great honeymoon.
Jensen’s wife lost her battle with ovarian cancer 18 months ago.
As for his talent for painting which gave him so many opportunities in his life, including his marriage, Jensen said he always had it.
“Since I was little, I’ve loved it,” he said. “I used to draw on brown paper grocery bags. Once in a while Mom would buy me some manila paper and I would draw on it. I was drawing all the time. I also sculpted a little. I started when I was probably five years old.
His love and his audacity to try opened the door to the artistic world where he will end up meeting and acquiring more expertise in the face of his passion with professional artists.
“When I was in the Air Force and when I worked for Boeing and every chance I got, I went to college and studied art,” Jensen said. “Of course, I had to take other courses like electronics and other courses, but I always took evening courses.”
Although he never established a real degree, he studied art at many colleges and universities. His list of places he studied includes: 1956 Fergus County High School, Lewistown, Montana 1956-1960 Air Force Edmonds Community College—Edmonds, Washington University of Washington—Seattle, Washington University of North Dakota—Grand Forks, North Dakota Laramie Community College—Cheyenne, Wyoming University of Wyoming—Laramie, Wyoming State Fair Community College—Sedalia, Missouri Weber State College—Ogden, Utah University of Oklahoma—Southwestern Mexico Studies, University of Maryland—Island of Bermuda.
Jensen made many of the sculptures you can see around Wheatland, including “The Irrigator” located at the Platte County Courthouse, “An Army Soldier Saluting” outside the Platte County Library, “Champ” the bulldog which is found on the campus of Wheatland High School.
Part two of the interview with Jensen will continue in next week’s paper as Jensen talks about the life-size soldiers he made for the Veterans Memorial in Thermopolis and Pine Bluffs. He also talks about his battles with his health and all the things that remain on his “to do” list.
Jensen leaves a legacy with every piece of art he creates. Without words, his thoughts and dreams will continue to speak to generations of people long after his death. It’s a lasting legacy of a man who gave his talents to do good for others.
Carl Jensen is 85 and says he still has a mile-long “to-do” list. Currently he is working on a clay model for a sculpture he is making which includes a horse and rider. He made each piece separately and then put them together. He is also working on finishing a painting that he has not yet finished. Bottom photos: Wheatland artist Carl Jensen has his art studio set up in his home where he paints and sculpts. For larger sculptures, he has a large enough outbuilding to shape and create his larger sculptures. Wheatland artist Carl Jensen and his daughter, Margaret Jensen, who is also a talented artist in the Wheatland area, view the impressive portfolio of work containing photos of the many sculptures Jensen made alone and others he made with the help of her daughter. “The Barn”, as the Jensens call it, the outhouse where larger works of art are made, contains many relics, molds and parts that were used in the making of the life-size sculptures that Jensen makes. Molded faces hang from nails throughout the work gallery.