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If you say the word “art,” many people think of a painter at an easel or a gallery wall filled with framed images.

Casper artists prove that a building wall can be a canvas, neon lights can paint anything imaginable and that art can even be sculpted from bacon.

Here’s a look back at some of the local artists the Casper Star-Tribune featured in 2018 who created in some lesser-seen mediums.

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Neon tube bender Connie Morgan as a teen didn’t realize that a neon art exhibition at the the Museum of the Rockies in her native Bozeman, Montana, would shape her life.

“I’d never thought of it as being an art form until I saw that,” she told the Star-Tribune in December.

She went on to study at a neon trade school in San Francisco and has worked around the country making neon signs for a living. These days, she’s the only working neon tube bender in Casper and possibly the state, she said.

Neon tube bending is a difficult, complex process that’s changed little since it was first displayed publicly in 1910. She can make anything in neon, she explained about the variety of her December show at Metro Coffee.

“While either creating art or a functional sign, to me the real art lies in the knowledge and in the creation of a neon tube,” she said in her artist statement for the show. “After 24 years in the sign trade I feel as though I’ve become a protector of a lost art.”

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Chris “Rugie“ Ruegsegger expresses himself through spray paint on canvas and building walls, like a wood construction wall downtown on which he painted a mural in May.

“That’s what graffiti is about — self-expression,” he told the Star-Tribune as he painted the piece. “My big thing is just to keep the street art alive — and communities like Casper, where street art isn’t a huge thing, use it to open those eyes and maybe get more of it in the community around here.”

Ruegsegger grew inspired by museum-worthy graffiti art on train cars and about 15 years ago taught himself to spray paint.

He’s gained enough business in the recent years to call his art a part-time job. One of his pieces was chosen to decorate a traffic signal box downtown as a winner of the 2018 Keep Casper Beautiful public art contest with Art 321.

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Ken Carpenter was aptly named; he expresses his creativity with the art of woodworking. He sees possibilities in wood to bring out the beauty of grain patterns or even flaws.

“You don’t just cut boards,” Ken Carpenter said in the fall. “You want things to flow.”

An exhibit at Art 321 in October featured his furniture, which ranged from formal recreations of 16th-century styles to a family of cartoon-like characters.

Casper woodworker unveils carpentry creations with gallery show

Carpenter estimated he owns about 4,000 board-feet in various colors, sizes and textures.

“You’ve got to have it,” he said, “because you can’t paint pictures if you don’t have paint.”

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Tom Thompson works with wood, too, as a trained acoustic luthier — a builder of wooden instruments. The owner of Tommy Tunes Guitar Repair is a repair and maintenance technician as well.

To sound and feel right, guitars must be built to precise measurements, down to sixty-fourths of an inch, he told the Star-Tribune in May.

“Two sheets of paper makes the difference, and we’ll sand them right down to 85 (thousandths of an inch) — no plus, no minus,” Thompson said.

For something to do when he retires from his job as a quality manager for oilfield tools, Thompson studied at the American School of Lutherie in Portland, Oregon. He spent a few months singing and playing his guitar at a restaurant on Casper Mountain to pay for it.

Now he spends 15-20 hours a week building and repairing in the shop that fills the basement of his house. But not all of it can be done with machines.

“A lot of this stuff is hand work, certainly building a guitar,” he said as he sanded down a part. “There’s a lot of machine work, but when it comes right down to the fine stuff — where we’re talking thousandths — that’s all hand work. You can’t do that with machines.”

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Self-taught artist Jim Kopp used diverse mediums to branch out from paintings and into three-dimensional art for much of his his “Primordial Charms” solo exhibit on display through Jan. 13 at the Nicolaysen Art Museum. Just a couple examples include characters created from bowling pins and a sculpture called “Centipede God,” made of wood and piano parts that showed up at his house.

Even his paintings have long incorporated a vast variety of found objects like bear-shaped honey bottles, vintage toys or paint can lids.

Self-taught art enjoys a tradition and history in other regions, he said, though it’s less common in Wyoming.

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Artistic creativity can be found outside the exhibits in at least one local museum. National Historic Trails Interpretive Center volunteer Carolyn Thorup sews pioneer dresses and bonnets for Barbie dolls while her husband and fellow volunteer, Lance Thorup, ties flies in historical patterns.

The couple volunteers through a two-year Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints program for senior couples. They thought of ways to lend their talents for another historical experience and bring a little money for the museum. Visitors can take home their creations for a donation to the center.

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Casper is home to culinary creativity, too. The Gruner Brothers Booze and Bacon Festival in December at the Casper Events Center celebrated Wyoming beer and spirits talent along with local culinary expertise. Caputa’s Catering owner Rob Caputa made 2,000 samples of his original bacon peanut butter fudge cup recipe for the event.

Booze and Bacon Festival showcases Wyoming brewing, spirits and culinary creativity

“I just think that catering is artistic,” Caputa said, “and we can actually sit down and create things.”

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Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner

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Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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