Audio Sources - Full Text Articles

A former Disney Imagineer started out carving iconic theme-park signs from wood. Now he’s a craftsman making custom works of art for Disney fans that cost $50,000 and take 350 hours.

Kinman works on a 'Beauty and the Beast' mantel face that he estimates he spent about 350 hours on between August and November.Kinman works on a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ mantel face that he estimates he spent about 350 hours on between August and November.

Raymond Kinman

  • Raymond Kinman got his big break in woodworking as a Disney Imagineer in the 1990s.
  • He started making signs still on display in parks, but now he designs for collectors willing to pay.
  • Kinman recounted his four most memorable wood sculptures and shared their inside stories.

Raymond Kinman’s woodworking career launched in the late 1970s on account of bravado. At 21 years old, Kinman accidentally volunteered to hand-carve a sign for his friend’s restaurant in the Lake Tahoe town of Kings Beach, California, though he’d never picked up a chisel in his life.

That sign was the start of a decades-long career he has spent carving one-off designs for rides and restaurants in the Disney parks, and more recently, crafting personalized Disney memorabilia for private collectors. 

In an era when machine-made signs and souvenirs are the norm, Kinman brings a hand-crafted workmanship to his pieces that is rare — and for that, he’s able to command top dollar. A recent commission of a “Beauty and the Beast”-themed mantel face measuring 6 feet by 14 inches took Kinman, by his estimate, around 350 hours from August to November. He charged the client $50,000 for his work.

Kinman is always looking for something new to challenge his mind and skills. Lately, he’s found his next big challenge through teaching. He offers three-day workshops at his home in northern California, for which participants — some who travel across the globe — pay $1,450 to learn the craft and hone their skills. 

Many of the participants have never carved wood in their life. “When they leave, they have their project and are saying ‘I can’t believe this came out of my hands,'” he said. “Giving a student permission to try is really all they need.”

Kinman has given himself permission to try new things through his own career. He jumped in feet first with the Kings Beach restaurant sign, tried his hand at chainsaw sculptures — though two accidents have discouraged him from exploring this method more — crafted a “No Trespassing” sign depicting a demon for Rosanne Barr, and has recently explored a fascination with carving tikis. 

He’s tried many things and done thousands of projects during his time carving. For Insider, he singled out the four designs that were the most important to his career.

1977 — The Loft Restaurant (Kings Beach, California)

While Kinman's work for The Soule Domain wasn't his first restaurant sign, it's the earliest of his work he has a picture of.While Kinman’s work for The Soule Domain wasn’t his first restaurant sign, it’s the earliest of his work he has a picture of.

Raymond Kinman

Kinman’s first carve that launched his career was a sign for his friend’s restaurant. The sign pictured here is another carving from early on, and the first project he has a photo of. The Soule Domain, on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, is still operating.

At the time he was living in Kings Beach, California, and a friend was preparing to open The Loft Restaurant. After unintentionally volunteering himself, Kinman found himself on the hook to carve its signage. 

“I knew nothing about woodworking. I had no money, no tools, no place to work, no experience. I didn’t know what kind of wood to use,” Kinman said. “But for some reason, I thought I could do it, and I stumbled through it.”

Kinman traded the sign for meals. “The sign wasn’t great, but neither was the food,” he said. “So, even trade.”

c. 1993 — Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost (Disneyland)

A post shared by Endor Express (@endorexpress)


In 1993 Kinman started doing contracted work as a Disney Imagineer. 

“I thought maybe they’d start me on some lower level, just test me out,” he said. “But I opened up the blueprints and it was for the Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost.” It was a major commission for Kinman and the start of his ongoing work in the Disney canon.

c. 1994 — Country Bear Playhouse Sign (Disneyland)

A post shared by Andrew (@kimcheeforlife)

Kinman said the Country Bear Playhouse sign is probably the hardest thing he’s ever carved because he had one arm in a cast at the time. The roughly 8-foot-by-4-foot sign carved from Honduras mahogany sold at auction in 2018 to a private collector for $85,000 when it was expected to fetch between $18,000 and $20,000.

At the time, the graphic designer who was in charge of Disney theme-park signage was a stickler for handwork, Kinman recalled. “He believed if you tell a computer to draw a straight line, it’s a straight line,” Kinman said. “His theory was that our minds interpret wonkiness as pleasurable,” so he was big on commissioning hand-carved works.

2022 — ‘Beauty and the Beast’ mantel face (private collection)

Kinman's 'Beauty and the Beast' mantel face was for a private collection in Oregon. The other side of the mantel face depicts the characters Mrs. Potts and Chip.Kinman’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ mantel face was for a private collection in Oregon. The other side of the mantel face depicts the characters Mrs. Potts and Chip.

Raymond Kinman

Kinman carved the 6-foot-by-14-inch “Beauty and the Beast”-themed mantel face for the library of a private collector of Disney memorabilia in Oregon. He said he spent about 350 hours on the piece, but “it didn’t seem like that.” 

He describes his mindset while carving as “this beautiful, zen state of mind where I’m in the present moment.” Not keeping close track of his hours, he feels, allows him to do the work to the best of his ability without getting bogged down in the details.

The mantel has 13 layers within its inch of carved depth that give it its sense of perspective. He said that’s one of the hardest parts of creating a realistic-looking composition. The commission cost $50,000.

In the future

Not all of Kinman's work is Disney themed. Here he's carving a door out of mahogany. He's also recently been into carving tikis.Not all of Kinman’s work is Disney themed. Here he’s carving a door out of mahogany. He’s also recently been into carving tikis.

Raymond Kinman

Kinman said he’s on deck to do a Haunted Mansion-themed sign for the game room of a private collector “that has a functioning roller coaster in it.” He thinks it will be about 5-feet by 3-feet and cost around $120,000. 

He’s also excited about a carving he’s been commissioned to do of Scrooge McDuck sitting in his money room. 

But these days, Kinman really gets his kicks from teaching. His monthly classes, which he hosts over a period of three days in his home workshop down a dirt road in northern California, are booked out two years in advance.

He didn’t realize how much he knew about woodworking until he started teaching. It’s allowed him to create the space to try new things, too. 

“The really high-end stuff, the really difficult stuff, that’s what I want to focus on now,” he said. “That’s what fires me up.”

Read the original article on Business Insider