Step inside Ben Nuhn’s creative oasis, where he makes some of the coolest hand-dyed tents around.
I was first introduced to Ben Nuhn’s work through Friends & Neighbors, where one of his hand-dyed tents graces the backyard. Intrigued, I dug around to find out who the artist was and, when I found Ben, knew immediately I had to meet him. Living in an artistic oasis right in the middle of the city, he creates one-of-a-kind masterpieces that carry a sense of wanderlust and spirit that’s hard to express in any other way. The compound where he lives is located on a street I’ve been down many, many times, but never even knew existed. It’s amazing the things you can find when you simply ask, or look beyond the wall of bamboo stalks and trees to see what’s inside. Places like this are what I love most about Austin – its sense of artistic collaboration and communal expression. Read on to get to know Ben and take a tour of the amazing Holly Compound, as well as a peek into his creative process.
When did you start making tents? What inspired the idea?
About 2 1/2 years ago I’d heard that Austin Psych Fest was allowing camping for the first time, and wanted to create something more portable than a traditional teepee to take to the festival. That was actually the first time I ever used a sewing machine. My friend Becca did most of the sewing on that tent but that’s when I learned the basics. On a whim we decided to try tie-dying it (also the first time I ever dyed anything) to make it appropriately psychedelic for the festival. The response was so positive to that first tent that I’ve been making them ever since! These days I’m most inspired by the idea of bringing people together in a unique space and creating an environment that allows people to escape from the hustle and stress of everyday life in that moment of time.
I’ve seen photos of your tents in some pretty cool places – what are some spots where you’d like to see them?
I haven’t been able to travel with my tents as much as I would like. It’s been a dream of mine to create a fleet of tents inspired by different landscapes (ocean, forest, desert) and take them on the road to do a photo series in different environments across the Western United States. I’d love to see a tent in Big Sur, the redwoods, White Sands, and the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.
You’ve done tents, hammocks, and some other projects around town – any new projects or ideas you can tell me about that you’re excited about?
I’d like to keep making outdoor products that are utilitarian and beautiful at the same time. I’m working on a backpack design right now and just finished my first lightweight nylon hammock as a more portable alternative to my canvas hammocks.
Favorite spots you’ve traveled to?
Pretty much anywhere in the American West! I’ve been to Big Sur a couple times now and that place has an enchanting quality that’s hard to put in to words. I spent 2 weeks camping alone in the redwood forests of Northern California a few years ago with the 1,000 year-old giants as my only companions. I think of those trees often. The big sky, mountains, and expansiveness of the Big Bend area of Texas will always have a special place in my heart as well.
I have to ask about the compound where you live in Austin – what’s its story, and how did you find it?
Artist Andy Coolquitt built the compound in the mid 90s as an expansive studio/artist commune/performance space/living sculpture/party place in what was still a very gritty East Austin. These days there are anywhere from 6-9 people living here in three houses and three camper trailers with a central kitchen building we all share. I’ve been at the compound for almost 4 years now. Before I was living in a little house on 5 acres along the San Marcos river and commuting 40 minutes into to Austin for work five days a week. A couple co-workers of mine were living at the compound and one of the trailers became available. The long commute was really wearing on me so I jumped at the opportunity. It’s proved to be a very inspiring place to live. Andy’s work ethic is something I really aspire to emulate – he’s pretty much working in his studio from sunrise to sunset every day.
Who are some of your personal favorite artists?
Currently, I’ve been very drawn to the architectural work of Frank Lloyd Wright and his ability to create modest yet incredibly beautiful, functional, and light-filled living spaces that feel like an extension of the natural environments they inhabit. Not a specific artist but lately I’ve also been very inspired by the traditional indigo textiles of West Africa.
Some of your favorite places in Austin?
Barton Springs takes the cake, for sure. I try and swim there as many days out of the week as I can in the summertime, and at least once a month throughout the year, even in the winter. I swear that water has healing powers, it can turn any bad day around for me. The Barton Creek greenbelt is another really special place for me (when the creek is actually flowing). It’s amazing to be able to feel completely disconnected from the city and immersed in nature when you’re actually right in the heart of it. As a DJ I also spend a lot of time at End of an Ear Records.
List a few albums you’ve been listening to lately.
Neil Young – On The Beach
Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue
Link Wray – Be What You Want To
Continental Drift – Self Titled EP
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