Jeff and the Giant Sculpture

Many of you saw Jeff’s picture of the new GIANT sculpture on Facebook. It’s not often he works on a scale that large, so I figured I’d take advantage of the situation to give you some behind-the-scenes information on the creation of such an exciting piece!

Jeff and the Giant Sculpture

Jeff’s picture of the big one. You can see it on his Facebook page, as well!

As with most of his sculptures, Jeff starts the creative process by sketching the design of the framework and building it according to his notes. While building the framework, he has only a basic idea of what the sculpture will look like when all is said and done. It’s the addition of found metal, the track, and the lift system that truly finishes a sculpture, and he’s never exactly sure what will go where until he’s in the midst of creating it. One particular difficulty Jeff has struggled with while creating this sculptures is identifying pieces of found metal that are both large enough and in good enough shape to be incorporated into the finished design. Interestingly, this is the first sculpture of this size to feature found metal. Jeff’s sculptures used to feature powder coated pieces of metal, a style he has moved away from in recent years. He found the brightness and flatness of the powder coated colors could make a piece appear “too sterile”, a look he is no longer as fond of. He now favors the depth and character that found metal lends to his creations. For more background information on Jeff’s choice to use found metals, check out Rust is the New Black.

powder coated sculpture

An example of a sculpture with powder coated metal pieces.

For this newest piece, Jeff found an old fuel barrel that was in pretty good shape and had a nice color to it. It was about 5 feet in diameter and barely fit in the back of his truck. He stuck it in there anyway and hoped for an empty road (he was rewarded with an uneventful trip home this time, though he has his horror stories). For old barrels like this one, he tends to wait a while to use them to ensure that any remaining fuel fumes have time to evaporate away. In this case, he was worried there might still be lingering fumes. He dissected it incredibly carefully, using a pneumatic chisel to avoid sparks and standing as far away from it as he could. He straightened the curved edges of the barrel himself, as always, and was happy with the results. You can see the straightened pieces of barrel already on the piece.

Another challenge Jeff faces when working on a piece of this magnitude is finding the space for it and getting all the way up to the top safely. Here’s a picture of the most open area in the studio- taken up by a single crate!

short supply of open space.

Open workspace is in short supply in the studio, but Zachmanns always manage!

Jeff uses a ladder and scaffolding to get up to the top of the piece. Much to the chagrin of his wife, it is necessary for him to stand on the very top step of his ladder to work (evidence of this is in the first picture of the post). Deb walked into the studio while he was up there and nearly had a heart attack, convinced he was going to fall off. Luckily he hasn’t yet, and hopefully won’t! Deb’s exchange with Jeff was overseen by Scott Gunvaldson, another artist based in Fergus Falls, who later climbed up the ladder himself. Being slightly taller than Jeff, he was able to reach the top of the sculpture without precariously placing himself on the top rung. He made sure Deb knew of his safety once he climbed back down.

Overall, Jeff is surprised and pleased by how this latest sculpture is turning out. He was worried it would end up being “just ok”, since he wasn’t sure he’d get his hands on the right found metal to tie everything together. However, he feels the old barrel metal adds the perfect amount of dimension to the piece and can’t imagine the sculpture without it. As an added bonus, he announced the other day (in reference to the kinetic aspects of the sculpture) that “it works!”. He’s excited to bring this giant piece to upcoming shows, and I hope you’re all excited to see it in action!

Let Jeff know what you think of his sculpture by ‘liking’ it on Facebook and/or leaving a comment below. Feedback is always welcome!



Required Reading

Zachmann photos (21 of 54)Just kidding. Nothing in art is necessarily required.I am, however, gearing up to write a post about art in small towns (like Fergus Falls!). As part of my research, I stumbled upon this list. Take a look! What do you think? Do you have more small towns to add?

America’s Top Small Town ArtPlaces 2013

While you’re at it, check out the rest of the ArtPlace website. They’re a group dedicated to creative placemaking. It’s also interesting to note that Fergus Falls, the hometown of Zachmann Studios, recently received a NEA grant for creative placemaking. What is creative placemaking? Here’s the ArtPlace explanation:

“Successful creative placemaking…

…places artists and art at the center of planning, execution and activity.

…leverages the creative potential already present in a place. All places have creative potential just waiting to bubble up. Even while drawing on resources from beyond the community, leveraging local artistic and organizational talent and assets increases the value in a community and the commitment to it, while nurturing an enduring sense of place.

…creates opportunities for people of all income levels and backgrounds to thrive in place. As its value increases, a place that is intentionally inclusive and connected is more likely to spur economic opportunity and allow people to succeed where they are.

…supports economic diversity in the community, providing multiple points of entry and interaction for people of all incomes. The more economically integrated a community is, the more access to opportunity exists for all.

…creates interesting places that capitalize on distinctiveness. A creative approach improves the aesthetics of a place, whether it is the look, feel, sound or even smell. The difference sets that place apart as more interesting than others. A place that expresses its distinctiveness and resists commodification and sameness is more likely to have long-term appeal.

…creates a place where people want to go and linger. Successful places attract people beyond those required to be there. People lingering is an investment of time in a place and is apt to lead to additional investments.

…contributes to a mix of uses and people that makes places more diverse, more interesting and more active, thus making spontaneous interaction more likely. Intensifying and mixing activities creates the promise that visitors can stumble onto the fun, mingle with other people, or happen upon opportunity.

…fosters connections among people and across cultures. The relationships built among diverse groups of people create safer, more open places that create more opportunity and foster a sense that everyone is welcome.

…is always presenting itself to the public and encouraging pedestrian activity. Whether open or closed, a place that is a consistently interesting and active presence to the street promotes more pedestrian activity and creates the public perception that the place is safer and more animated. More pedestrians mean more prospective customers on the street to support more small businesses.

…creates a place where business wants to be. As a place becomes more active, commerce is likely to respond, thus giving people even more reasons to be there.

…convinces people that a place can have a different and better future.”

See more at:

Pretty cool, right? Stay tuned for the upcoming post about art in small towns.

For The Young At Heart

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN

I have a challenge for you: name three artist (other than Jeff and Carl) that make kinetic sculptures without Google-ing “Kinetic Sculptor”. Honestly, I get as far as Duchamp and his bicycle wheel and I’m out. Not being trained in art history could be a factor in my failure, but I like to think it’s because theirs is a field not populated by many. Walking through the Minneapolis Institute of Art last week, I saw nothing that could compare to a Zachmann original. It was kind of cool to think about, but it also made me wonder if Jeff finds particular kinetic inspiration or feels “kinetic kinship” with any artists in any museums around the country. Turns out, he does!

The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

Jeff’s favorite museum is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Among other amazing works of art, they have a piece there called Calder’s Circus. Created from 1926 to 1931 by Alexander Calder, the piece is a sculptural, kinetic representation of a circus. Using wire, wood, metal, cloth, yarn, paper, cardboard, leather, string, rubber tubing, corks, buttons, rhinestones, pipe cleaners, and bottle caps, Calder made movable models that performed all parts of the circus. The circus has everything from a ringleader with an impressive top hat to a daredevil lion tamer. Check it out:

Calder's Circus, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

Calder’s Circus, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

Calder first started the piece in Paris, where he would perform it for friends with comments in French. The circus went back and forth with him from Paris to New York until it was finished in 1931. Each piece in the circus moved mechanically with manipulation by Calder’s hands. Jeff says seeing the circus was one of the things that turned him on to kinetic art in the first place. The energy and heart that went into the creation of such an intricate work is arguably what is most impressive about the circus, and the artist’s wholehearted involvement with his work really struck Jeff when he saw it for the first time. It inspired him to do what he loved and what interested him the most. “The guy never grew up,” he says of Calder. “He grew up just enough to use the tools.”

While Calder’s work is much different from anything made by a Zachmann, it still proves to be an inspiration and a peer to their form of kinetic art. Creating intriguing movement from static pieces in order to bring joy and/or excitement and/or childlike wonder to the viewer is not something most artists can do or even try to do. It is my hope that in a couple decades, someone will watch a video of a Zachmann or see it hanging in a museum and will think to themselves, “That guy grew up just enough to use the tools, and that’s where I’ll stop too.”

Below is part 1 of a video of Alexander Calder performing and explaining his circus. It’s really fun to watch, so I encourage you to take the time to do so. Then, leave a note about your favorite museum or your favorite piece of art and why you love it in the comments for this post!

Rust Is The New Black

Jeffrey Zachmann #701, 2013

Jeffrey Zachmann #701, 2013

One of the things that makes a Zachmann piece so unique is the use of found metal. In Jeff’s pieces, found metal juxtaposes interestingly with the clean lines of stainless steel to create an internal dialogue between old and new. The depth a piece or two of found metal adds to his work is as necessary as the motor to the finished product. Imagine a piece without found metal: it would seem almost clinical in comparison.                                  Carl’s pieces rely on found metal to an even greater extent, exploring America’s industrial background through the use of the original materials. His archeologist’s eye is trained to see the beauty in the used and forgotten.

Carl Zachmann, Serial No. 9

Carl Zachmann, Serial No. 9

But why the interest in what most people disregard as scraps? Jeff says the metal that comes to him already beat up and with a past of its own seems more alive than the newer, cleaner metal he uses to create his frameworks. The used metal has ready-made focal points in the scrapes, rust, and patina that cover its surface. Since the metal that Jeff and Carl use comes from a variety of places- scrapyards, the side of the highway, friends- it can be fun to try to guess what its history might be. Often it brings Jeff back to his childhood visiting his uncle’s farm, far from a hardware store. To him, reusing metal that has had a previous life is the ultimate in frugality and resourcefulness. It gives the metal a new purpose. Rather than rusting away somewhere, it is incorporated into a piece of art that gives it a new voice. What the metal says to Jeff echoes what his Father used to say to him: Everything there is, somebody made- and you have the option to make it, too. You just have to decide if you want to.

The Winds of Change

Can you believe it’s already the end of July? As usual, things have been busy for the Zachmann Studios team. Both Jeff and Carl enjoyed their time at Art Fair on the Square in Madison, Wisconsin, meeting new people and seeing old friends. Here are some highlights from the show, as reported by Jeff:

Two ideas from one guy:

1.You should have some of your sculptures made abroad and then you could sell them at Walmart.
2. You should make your sculptures life-sized and have people ride in them. You could have them in a water park flume… for safety.*

*In my position as executive assistant, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my whole-hearted support of idea #2. It is dangerous and irresponsible (despite the safety tip) and therefore a worthy endeavor for Zachmann Studios.

Jeff also had a little girl come into his tent with a whole collection of cool things she had found on the ground that day. Jeff gave her a little cloth bag to hold all her treasures, which included but were not limited to: a hairclip, a crutch tip, an acorn cap, a swizzle stick, a bottle cap, and a picture of a pirate. “Pretty impressive,” says Jeff.

Carl somehow had the energy to turn around right after that show and head to the State Street Area Art Fair in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Although, let’s be honest. He was probably fueled solely by excitement stemming from the debut of………………………………………………

wind100HIS NEW WIND SCULPTURE!!!! (Follow the link at the bottom of the post to see it in action.)

The wind sculpture is new territory for Carl and Jeff. It is the first non-electric piece to come out of Zachmann Studios, and it’s safe to say it won’t be the last. Many new doors are opened with the creation of this single piece. Outdoor sculpture gardens are now viable venues for Zachmann creations, and the stage is set for further creative expansion of their work.

So, what do you think of the new wind sculpture? How about that water park idea? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and watch the video of the wind sculpture at work here.