WHEATLAND – It’s called a silent art.
Unlike a musician, there are no lyrics or music. Unlike an actor, the voice is silent. Unlike a dancer, there is no movement, and yet his art moves us all.
Wheatland artist Carl Jensen paints and he sculpts and he causes people to marvel; those who have had a chance to see the creations that are born in his thought patterns and magically come from his fingertips.
Some may say he has the ability to capture time gone by.
Whether that time is a moment in the flame of a campfire or the salute of a Marine to a fallen comrade where no words are spoken, those moments speak volumes.
“To portray the people and animals used throughout my lifetime,” Jensen writes as he explains his life’s objective. “In my art I wish to create a sculpture or painting inspired by memory or an 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. Being creative you may be able to catch glimpses of the genius that began to grow out from him even as a young boy.
“I loved it,” Jensen said. “I really loved it. My dad had a ranch south of Lewistown. I used to take my saddle horse and go fishing at Spring Creek for rainbow trout. We ran cattle and the neighbor ran cattle and he used to get me to cowboy for him. When I was 12 years old I was getting paid $7 a day to cowboy for him.”
A cowboy. A fisherman. A rancher. 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 United States Airforce front door and enlist in 1956. He spent four years in the military. He got out two months before they made his career field critical. If not for that timing, he would have had to go to Vietnam.
He finished his stint in the military working on a base in Bermuda before finishing up and coming home to his beloved Montana.
“I’ve lived kind of a charmed life,” Jensen said. “I really have. Rather than stay in Bermuda, I’ve got 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 while as a fireman.
When he got out of the service and hung up his army helmet and his fireman’s hat, he got a job with US Gypsum. A company now known as the leading distributor of wallboard in the United States.
From Gypsum, Jensen was able to hook on with the Boeing Aerospace Company.
“I was with Boeing for 14 and a half years,” Jensen said. “When they were having trouble with the first three 747s I got sent back to Seattle to work back there. I was there a year and a half, but right before I went back to Seattle, we had a dispatch center out of Chugwater.”
And although Jensen says it’s a funny story how he met his wife, it was a story that completed that void in his life and she went on to be one of his greatest supporters in his life. In some love stories, you hear about the couple feeling as if they are walking on air or having their head in the clouds.
That was literal for Janel Foster and Jensen who met each other at 10,000 feet in the air.
“It’s kind of a funny deal,” Jensen said as if it were yesterday. “I actually got on a plane at Billings and I was flying to Cheyenne. She was on this plane and it was an evening flight and there wasn’t hardly anyone else on the plane. We got to talkin’ and I’d never seen her before and I said, ‘I’m out of Kimball right now, but I’ll be moving up to Wheatland because we are going to be dispatching out of Chugwater. And she said, ‘well look me up when you get there.’”
It turns out that Janel (soon to be Jensen) worked at a bank in Wheatland.
“We just hit it off,” Jensen said. “In fact, a friend of mine, he was chasing her at the same time. I beat his timing and I think he still might be mad about it. My wife, she was a very attractive woman. She was a rodeo queen and she was real active here.”
Janel Foster grew up on a ranch just north of Wheatland called “Little Cottonwood,” according to Jensen before moving down closer to Wheatland in later life and purchased some smaller farms.
After the initial meeting Janel found out that Carl was an artist and a painter, and she found out that he was living in a basement apartment in Wheatland.
“She was really fascinated,” Jensen said. “Through her whole life she was kind of the wind behind my sail. I asked her if she wanted to sit for a portrait and she said ‘yeah, I’ll do that’ and the rest is kind of history. She came down to my place and we got to talking and we were getting along real well. I only knew her two and a half months and we got married.”
Boeing had moved the couple to Seattle to work and Jensen said it turned out to be a pretty nice honeymoon as well.
Jensen’s wife lost her battle with ovarian cancer 18 months ago.
As for his talent for painting which has provided so many opportunities in his lifetime including his marriage, Jensen said he just always had that.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I loved it,” he said. “I used to draw on brown paper grocery sacks. Every once in a while, mom would buy me some manilla paper and I’d draw on that. I was drawing all the time. I also was sculpting a little bit. I started when I was probably five years old.”
His love and his boldness to give it a try opened the door to the artistic world where he would eventually meet and gain more expertise dealing with his passion from professional artists.
“When I was in the Air Force and when I worked for Boeing and whenever I had a chance, I went to college and studied art,” Jensen said. “Of course, I had to fill in other courses like electronics and other classes but I always went to night school.”
Although he never established an actual degree, he has studied art at many colleges and universities. His list of places he has 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—Studies located in S.W. Mexico, University of Maryland—Bermuda Island.
Jensen has done many sculptures that you can see around Wheatland including “The Irrigator” located at the Platte County Courthouse, “An Army Soldier saluting” in front of the Platte County Library, “Champ” the bulldog that sits 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 did for the Veteran’s Memorial in Thermopolis and Pine Bluffs. He also talks about his battles with his health and all the things left on his “to-do” list.
Jensen leaves a legacy with each piece of art he creates. Without words his thoughts and his dreams will continue to speak to generations of people long after he is gone. It’s a lasting legacy of a man who has given his talents to bless others.