“I leave my stuff all around the house, like every guy,” says Cully Pratt, regarding the spark that inspired his custom, handmade Cully Pepper Trays.
Each tray is carved from wood, and then an image of the customer’s choosing is superimposed on its flat surface (burned or painted). This touch makes it more than just another knicknack; it becomes both meaningful and useful -- it gathers your personal belongings instead of gathering dust.
Now you know what to buy for the guy who loses everything.
“It’s an everyday pocket-dump tray that is rugged and looks tough,” he says. “You can throw your wallet and keys and stuff in there so you don’t lose them. It just becomes a personalized gift that you give a guy who’s a slob. “
Customers sum it up this way: “This is the perfect gift for my husband, who is so hard to buy for.”
“That’s the niche,” Cully says. “Doing something meaningful for somebody who already has a lot is a difficult thing to do. I tell my kids, you can do anything you want to do. You just have to figure out an avenue or a way to do it.”
As far as the images he receives, Cully has seen it all: Bible scripture, kids, pets, business logos, wedding photos, law enforcement badges, and any sentimental picture that carries a personal meaning.
“People dig the fact that they are all hand made,” he says.
Cully’s been creating art for over 25 years; now he’s sharing his gift by creating gifts. He’s a Washington State native (“When it’s not raining, it’s as beautiful as anywhere I’ve ever been.”), an Army vet, and currently a deputy sheriff and public information officer for Northern California’s Solano County.
He’s also the brother of actor Chris Pratt, who is an enthused customer.
“I started making them and my brother was like, those things are freaking cool,” Cully says. “He’s away a lot, maybe three quarters of the year, so he wanted something to remind him of home. He wanted a little token that would ground him. He came up with a Bible scripture and a cool little image, and I made him one.”
Throughout his life, Cully has found joy and connection in art. He’s completed large and small-scale wall murals for homes and businesses, which has led to what he calls “this self-sustaining, referral-based adventure as an artist.” He’s also instructed sip-and-paint classes, and finds meaning in what other people discard.
“I do antique restoration,” he says. “I see a lot of antiques and old stuff that people aren’t using. I’m always refurbishing them and bringing them back. I use a lot of barn wood, or old fences that go down. I cut it up and dry it up and stack it up and let it sit for a while. Get it all cleaned up.”
The passion also serves as a stress reliever and a great hobby, a complement to his full-time career.
“I just wake up early on my day off, go over to the wood shop and get all saw-dusty,” he says.
The gift -- and the sawdust -- is in his jeans as well as in his genes.
“We come from a really artistic family,” he says. “It was always pushed. We’re a bunch of show offs. I’m a third-generation class clown. My dad was a class clown in high school -- we would look at him in his yearbook. And then I was, and then my brother was. And I think that’s kind of funny. My mom and dad always pushed our creativity. They were really supportive. If we would draw, they were all about it, hanging it on the refrigerator way too long.”
His late dad, Dan Pratt, was a home contractor and imparted a practical way to approach any project.
“He wasn’t a scholar, but he was a visionary,” Cully says. “He was a great athlete. He could look at a problem and he could fix it. He had a lot of common sense. He was self-taught, over years and years of doing things. He believed that if you do it once the right way, you don’t have to do it twice.”
Cully also uses social media to share the work as he goes.
“I take pictures of the process,” he says. “For instance: this is the pile of wood it came from, this is how I started the project and this is what I’m doing with it now. I’ll share the pictures on Instagram. When people buy a tray, they don’t just share the final result, but they share the entire process.”
Cully’s advice for entrepreneurs like him, who have full-time jobs and precious little free time:
“Watch the movie The Secret,” he suggests. “ Spend time watching Alan Watts’ video that asks, what would you do if money were no object? What it comes down to: action causes reaction. You can spend two hours a day talking about what you are not able to do because you don’t have the time, but you just spent two hours complaining that you don’t have the time. It’s better to do a little bit every day, rather than nothing.”
Luck? Maybe a little, but mostly dedication and a laser-like focus on the grindstone. Still, Cully feels blessed.
“I’ll find some wood and knock on it,” he says.