Paul Cutting Restoration Artist Interview by NYC Photographer

Paul Cutting Restoration Artist Interview by NYC documentary style photographer Angela Cappetta

Paul Cutting Restoration Artist Interview by NYC Photographer

Paul Cutting Restoration Artist Interview by NYC Photographer

Interview by Angela Cappetta

Paul Cutting Restoration Artist

Paul Cutting is a restoration carpenter based in Iowa. He possesses a wisdom that belies his youth.  “Why interview a carpenter” you may ask.  Just because Mr. Cutting uses a woodshop instead of a darkroom or painting studio doesn’t make his body of work any less documentary or artistically sound. His photography portfolio happens to be a series of historic cottages that Walker Evans would have been pleased to put in front of a lens.

Photo by Paul Strand of an early American church
Church photo by Walker Evans.  Bottom photo by Paul Cutting.

All of Mr. Cutting’s projects faced the bulldozer.  He restores and sometimes lives in them. Then he moves onto another.  These buildings are tiny museums. The pictures he takes of them aren’t half bad, but they leave you thirsting for more, which he probably knows.  That must be why he so fervently photographs them.

Here’s the genius of his art, he gets them for free. Yes, free. Midwestern graciousness, or artists’ ingenuity?  Perhaps both.


Paul Cutting Restoration Artist
Paul Cutting Restoration Artist                                                Photo of….Paul Cutting Restoration ArtistPhoto of…

1) Tell us how you acquired your first prairie house project?

I was totally amazed at what I found.  They were everywhere.  Some are still lived in– their exteriors covered in siding and the inside plastered– but most are abandoned in varying states of decay.  It’s still an incredible rush to find one for the first time.  I like the fact that the logs are almost always concealed under plaster.  It’s like unwrapping a present.

Most people are pretty reasonable and give them up. Eventually, they realize the buildings have no practical value in their current state.  I am simply given a hundred and fifty (150) year-old log house for free.

2) Was it love at first sight?

Absolutely.  I get hooked on things and have an impossible time letting go.  Back then, people moved across the continent without anything but a few possessions and their ingenuity.  The Norwegian-Americans used the full dovetail joint to connect the timbers.  This complex compound notch is damn difficult to wrap your head around let alone to fashion with a hand ax.  My corner of Iowa was settled almost exclusively by Norwegian immigrants.  Norwegians have a collective knowledge of log building that extends back a thousand years.


Paul Cutting Restoration ArtistPhoto of …

3) Tell us about your training and how you became “Paul Cutting Restoration Artist”.

I  learned from an older craftsman. Taking a building apart is simple.  One has to be safe.  However, putting something back together is the hard part.  Through experience, I’ve become very competent at log work.  I can hew a tree flat and replicate a dovetail corner notch on instinct.

4) Do you feel more like a curator or an artist?

Equally both.  Most professional preservationists deride this type of work; they claim context and materials are lost in the process.  What I practice, is that this perspective fails to consider that these buildings are being razed daily.  Furthermore, the landscape of Iowa is being altered by industrial agriculture at an astonishing rate, and to get hung up on context and materials really misses the point.  So, moving a building and rebuilding it is often the only available option.  As they say: move it or lose it.

5) How do you finance each project?

It is often a struggle.  I’ve somehow managed to piece together enough resources, though. Miraculously, I am able to pull off these installations. For example, my work was once highlighted on a blog.  In the comments section, some readers assumed I was wealthy. They said things like ‘it must be nice to have money and land’.  And so on. In reality, I wait tables.

6) What does someone do if they want to buy one of your restored houses from you?

Well, I have log house kits stashed away I’m willing to sell, and as always, I consider taking restoration projects if it’s a good fit.


Paul Cutting Restoration ArtistPhoto of…
Paul Cutting Restoration Artist
Paul Cutting Restoration Artist Photo of …

To enumerate, Paul’s work has been shown at the Iowa Statewide Historic Preservation Conference 2012, Inspire(d) Media, Decorah Newspapers, Apartment Therapy,, Free Cabin Porn, and various blogs.

You can read more about him and see photos of his work at

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