Meet Charlie Spitzack, a talented site lead with Nelson Treehouse and Supply. Charlie's wicked organizational skills and artistry make him an asset on any build. When he's not managing the minutiae of treehouse logistics or traveling the country on new builds, Charlie can be found creating print art (you can check out Charlie's prints on his website or at Davidson Galleries in Seattle).
Why does Charlie see printmaking as the "people's art"? What's the story behind Charlie's first Nelson Treehouse build? Read on to find out ten fascinating things you didn't know about Charlie!
CHARLIE'S PATHWAY TO NELSON TREEHOUSE AND SUPPLY
It’s 6:30 on a dark and foggy Seattle morning. The harbor is illuminated by a single, stoic streetlight; beams filter down through the fog in dense yellow stripes. Charlie Spitzack arrives at the dock as instructed, tool bag in hand. He’s alone – the rest of the crew has yet to arrive. Five minutes pass, then ten. Waves lap rhythmically against the embankment, aligned with the audible ticking of Charlie’s watch. Suddenly, the hulking bodies of Nelson Treehouse carpenters materialize out of the fog: first Chuck, then Patrick, followed by the rest of the crew. Despite the early hour, the crew hardily greets Charlie, welcoming him to his first treehouse build. Charlie begins to feel a bit less wary – until he spots a tremor in the fog. Without warning, a small legion of camera operators breaks through the mist, slogging toward the huddled mass of carpenters. The Treehouse Masters production team has arrived, eager to board the ferry to the build site. Confusion and shock flash across Charlie’s face – he had never heard of the TV show and had no idea that his first day of work was to be filmed for all posterity. Charlie quickly regains composure and turns to face the day with confidence. He’s ready: ready to tackle anything and everything (be it carpentry or camera crew) that comes his way.
Thus concludes the true account of Charlie’s first Nelson Treehouse build. Let’s dive into a little backstory, shall we?
Charlie grew up in the 21st-most populous American state, commonly know as Minnesota. From a young age, Charlie was steeped in building by virtue of his father, an engineer who also built the family's house. The Spitzack family harbors long ties to the construction industry, stemming from the historic Spitzack Lumber Yard in MN. As a kid, Charlie spent many happy hours “building stuff in the woods” with friends near his home, including four motley treehouses. Charlie credits his mother with his artistic inclinations: being quite the artist herself, she helped expose Charlie to many forms of art-making from a young age.
College brought Charlie to Seattle, where he studied print arts and drawing at Cornish College of the Arts. After graduation, Charlie spent eight years working at Bumbershoot, one of Seattle’s largest multidisciplinary arts festivals. As the associate manager of the festival's visual arts section, Charlie was responsible for a wide array of tasks ranging from coordinating essential signage, to communicating with partners, to acting as the literal "Key Master" of the event. Charlie's tenure at Bumbershoot taught him many of the skills he draws on today as a treehouse site lead: in particular, his aptitude for organization, management, and keeping track of innumerable details. During Bumbershoot's off-seasons, Charlie worked for various nonprofit organizations and created prints for exhibitions featured in local galleries and other establishments.
Around 2013, Charlie enrolled in the Wood Technology Center at the Seattle Central Community College to cultivate his construction and woodworking skills. There, he met Charlie Nelson, who had asked their instructor for names of capable students with an interest in building treehouses. Though their instructor immediately referred Charlie N. to Charlie S., it was several weeks before the two spoke about treehouse work. Charlie N. hesitated to invite Charlie S. to a treehouse build because of their shared name - after all, there's a hard limit on the number of Charlies permitted on treehouse build sites. Apparently, Charlie N. decided there was room enough in the treehouse life for two Charlies, and invited Charlie S. to a local build. Charlie N. instructed Charlie S. to meet the crew at a dark and foggy harbor in Seattle a few weeks later... and the rest is treestory.
Today, Charlie is one of Nelson Treehouse’s finest site leads, corralling the logistics of many builds. When he's not on treehouse build sites, Charlie can be found creating print art, teaching art classes, working on graphic designs for events around Seattle, managing a building downtown, and signing himself up for even more side hustles. To be honest, you'd be hard-pressed to find Charlie at all - he's constantly on the go, busy working on new projects!
As a site lead, Charlie is responsible for managing many of the logistical details of builds. In Charlie’s words, “It’s all the little connections to make: when is the interior designer coming, the electricians, subcontractors, the crew. Who’s on site, when? Who’s doing what, where? It’s ensuring that all the details come together smoothly.” Charlie thrives on this breed of analytical, detail-oriented organization, especially when it’s paired with the physical component of building.
Nelson Treehouse builds are notorious for being fast-paced and high-pressure, owing to the nature of television production timelines. Charlie loves the challenge of this pace – he’s happiest when he’s working long hours, pushing hard to the end of a build. It may come as no surprise that one of Charlie's greatest professional challenges is reducing his tendency to get overstretched, saying “yes” to any opportunity for work that comes his way.
In addition to the pace, Charlie enjoys the endless variety of the job (no two builds are exactly alike) and the company’s communal, down-to-earth ethos. As Charlie puts it, “I’m not cut out for corporate hogwash - the small family business is what resonates most with me.”
Charlie was initially drawn to printmaking for reasons of efficiency: the medium compelled him to complete drawings he otherwise may have left unfinished, and enabled him to make multiple copies of a single print. But what really hooked Charlie on printmaking is its democratizing quality: “Printmaking is the people’s art,” says Charlie. “Until relatively recently, printmaking was the main mode of communication, the way to spread word to the public. I think it’s always been kind of revolutionary.”
Printmaking also reduces the cost of each piece, as the artist can make copies. “I like how the price point of prints makes art more accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford it,” Charlie muses. “It helps art connect more directly with the general public.”
In Charlie’s words, every piece of artwork he creates, “seems to hit home somehow.” That said, his print New Growth uniquely sticks out in his mind. Charlie made this piece nearly ten years ago and is still struck by its representation of the symbiosis between struggle and growth.
Charlie admires Diego Rivera’s murals – he appreciates Rivera's portrayal of provocative themes like industrialization and social inequality. Charlie had the opportunity to visit several Rivera frescoes in person while traveling in Mexico City.
In general, Charlie also draws artistic inspiration from early modernist artwork from the first half of the 20th century, including the boldness and dynamism of Soviet propaganda prints. Charlie believes art should be political, that artists have an imperative to challenge society to think differently. It’s also important to Charlie that artists create works that are accessible to the general public rather than, in Charlie's words, "solely for the appreciation of the art scene. I think art should connect with people.”
FAVORITE NELSON TREEHOUSE BUILD
Charlie especially enjoyed working on a recent treehouse in Texas (tune into the all-new season of Treehouse Masters starting August 4th on Animal Planet for the reveal of this particular treehouse!). The project was unique for Charlie because he managed it through almost every stage, from beginning to end: he drafted shop drawings for the prefabrication crew, packed the shipping truck, and led the build onsite. This process gave Charlie a deep understanding of the structure and all the steps involved in producing it. He also loved the treehouse’s features, including its high elevation, intimate integration with the branches, and “very cool spaces inside – I’d be happy to spend time in any corner!”
CHARLIE'S DREAM TREEHOUSE
Charlie’s dream treehouse would roost high up in multiple trees. It would be built organically, without prefabrication - Charlie would begin with a few “solid drawings and design ideas,” but would be open to deviations from the plan as the structure evolves. The treehouse would be relatively small, and would include a sleeping/hangout space, ample deck, crow’s nest, and “a gnarly way to get up.”
JOY OF TEACHING
Charlie has taught art classes to middle school students in the past, and is currently leading a printmaking class for all ages at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle. He loves watching his students delve into something that he enjoys, and derives inspiration from their experimentation. As Charlie puts it, teaching printmaking provides, “a little validation of my skillset and an opportunity to be part of a purposeful art community again.”
ONE THING CHARLIE HAS NEVER TRIED BUT WOULD LIKE TO DO
Watching seaplanes land gracefully on Seattle's Lake Union has got Charlie hooked on the idea of flight - he hopes to try piloting a plane one day. In the nearer future, he’d like to be a passenger on a small plane to the San Juan Islands.