Sculptor Turns Wood Into 'Cold Hard Cash'

Art lovers who stumble across one of artist Randall Rosenthal's works in the New York City gallery where they're sold could be forgiven for thinking they had hit it rich.

Rosenthal has become famous creating what appears to be a cardboard box stuffed to the brim with wads of cash. In reality, both the box and the cash are carved out of wood and hand painted to jaw-dropping, lifelike precision by the artist.

"My wife told me to go make money," Rosenthal, 66, joked about why he made his first "Cold Hard Cash" sculpture over a decade ago.

Rosenthal, who lives with his wife, Caren, in Springs, N.Y., first combined his woodworking profession with his lifelong passion for painting in 1997 when he was commissioned to create an open book for a Bible rest on the lectern of Seattle's St. James Cathedral.

"I started painting the book's pages and then a local museum offered me a one-man show," Rosenthal told "I did the books until got tired of it and then started doing anything that was made out of paper - charts, yellow pads of paper - and then one day it dawned on me that I could do money."

Rosenthal's idea proved to be very popular, and profitable. His works - which include envelopes of money as well as boxes of cash - sell for "well into the five figures" at the prestigious Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in New York.

Each of Rosenthal's four "Cold Hard Cash" sculptures, including one that was purchased by a buyer in Tokyo, took the artist three to four months to complete.

"Half the time is spent on carving and half is spent on painting," he said. "They're the exact opposite processes. I start with a block of wood and it's totally reductive in that I take away wood until I get what I want."

"The carving is a high-wire act because there's no room for error and I don't plan it out," Rosenthal said. "The painting is the opposite. You can paint on the paint forever, until you get what you like."

Though Rosenthal's portfolio of work also includes wood recreated as newspapers, baseball cards, binders, books and more, it is his sculptures of money that have particularly captured the public's eye.

"Money has an emotional appeal on a few different levels - positive and negative - and it's an intense visual object," Rosenthal said. "They fool your eye because you see what you expect to see."

"I think the fact that people can see it go from a block of wood to a finished piece adds a dimension to it that you don't normally get," Rosenthal said of the appeal of the videos showing how his pieces are made. "A lot of artists don't like showing the process but I don't mind."