Metal and Blues

When the sound waves emanating from Zachmann Studios aren’t carrying the sharp noises of a spinning saw or the blare of Carl’s train whistle (seriously), you can hear the music that plays almost non-stop during creation hours.

Carl's very loud whistle. It was an unexpected gift from a client, and it's rigged up in the studio with a very long pull-cord so they can stand outside when it goes off.

Carl’s very loud whistle. It was an unexpected gift from a client, and it’s rigged up in the studio with a very long pull-cord so the operator can stand outside when it goes off.

Jeff has a radio and a computer hooked up to a speaker system in the studio that pumps out music hour after hour and keeps things upbeat. He likes all kinds of music, but is especially into blues. His favorite artists of the musical variety range from B.B. King to Muddy Waters to ZZ Top. In fact, Sharp Dressed Man is his no. 1 pick for best song (currently). When I asked him what song he liked best, he had to think for a minute to remember the name of it. He landed on the words “well-dressed man”, which was close enough for me, but his wife Deb heard the words as “weld dressed man”. He couldn’t help but laugh at that. If there was a song about a weld dressed man, I think it would be very appropriate to hear over the speaker in Zachmann Studios.

A Tool In The Artist’s Hand

At the show in St. Louis a couple weeks ago, Jeff had a little girl around 5 years old stop in his booth to look at his art with her dad. She asked Jeff how he makes his sculptures, and he told her he takes wires and bends and welds them together. Her dad pointed to the pliers Jeff had sitting out and said, “He uses those.” The little girl got really excited and yelled at her dad: “You have that! You should make these!”

Inside Zachmann Studios

Inside Zachmann Studios.

Zachmann Studios, though modestly sized, is full to the brim with metal scraps, machinery, welding supplies, and tools. Lots and lots of tools. I worked in the studio the summer after I graduated from college, trying my best to be useful to Jeff when in fact the only tool I had ever really handled was the purple hammer I received as a high school graduation present. He taught me how to solder (I was ok!), weld (I was not ok!), and cut metal with a large saw.

Zachmann Studios sparks flying

Sparks fly as Jeff cuts some metal.

Jeff uses those more “exotic” tools on a regular basis- he welds and melts and cuts things down to their proper sizes and shapes with the precision and accuracy of a machine himself, and he almost never has to go to the emergency room. Despite the cool sparks that fly when he cuts metal and the awesome helmet he gets to wear when he welds, however, Jeff swears that his favorite and most useful tool is a dingy old pair of pliers.

Jeffrey Zachmann Kinetic Sculpture

Jeff using his trusty pliers to shape a wire on a nearly-finished sculpture.

“They look like crap to anyone else,” he says, “but they fit my hands well and they work great. I have a lot of tools that work and get used a lot that, when I’m gone, will go straight away into a dollar bin.” Somehow, I doubt Carl or his sister will let their Dad’s tools disappear into a dollar bin somewhere. Tools in Zachmann Studios hold a lot of memories and meaning. When Jeff’s father passed away, Jeff inherited his large collection of tools (his father was a mechanic). He now uses them to make his work, and they offer him a solid link to his father’s memory and his do-it-yourself attitude. It is that attitude that inspires a lot of Jeff’s artistic endeavors. Clearly, a tool in the artist’s hand is more than just a tool. It’s a vehicle for creation.

The Exotic Traveling Artist

Jeff and Carl in Zachmann Studios, photo courtesy of Scott Wagnild

Jeff and Carl in Zachmann Studios, photo courtesy of Scott Wagnild

Jeff and Carl just returned home to Fergus Falls from one of their whirlwind trips across the country. Though a bit tired, Jeff is happy to share his experiences and give a little insight into the life of a traveling artist. While we’d also love to hear from Carl, he’s a bit busy repairing a wall in the garage of the new house he bought with his wife, Krista… Ah, the life of an artist and a homeowner!

Jeff and Carl left on Tuesday, August 27th for Portland, OR. After days and weeks and months of preparation, Jeff’s giant van was packed and ready for action. The van looks a little like the Mystery Machine, though without the ridiculous paint or most of the seats, which have been removed for optimal sculpture storage and transport. The two left town in the late morning and made it about a mile out before the van broke down. It was turbo troubles, but as luck would have it, Jeff had an extra in his shop at home. They got the problem fixed and took off again around 5 pm. This time they made it all the way to Fargo, N.D. (about an hour drive from Fergus Falls) before Jeff realized he had forgotten his wallet. He drove halfway home to meet his wife, Deb, who brought the wallet and allowed them to continue on their way. Continue they did, switching off driving, talking in the car, and reaching Portland at 1:45 pm on Friday afternoon. Their setup time was scheduled for 2:00, so they made it with plenty of time to spare…

Setup example: Carl's booth

Setup example: Carl’s booth

“Set up”, Jeff says, “takes however long I have.” If he has 24 hours, it can take 24 hours. If he has 3 hours, it can take 3 hours, though that’s about the shortest amount of time in which he can still do a good job. And doing a good job is important, especially at shows that take place outside.
After checking in, he pulls his van up to his booth area, unloads everything he needs, and parks it elsewhere to leave room for other artists to unload their own goods. He sets up his tent, which shows do not provide. He puts 40 lbs on each leg to help hold it down, and often drills into the ground to secure his tent fully. He says he’s seen artists get complacent about nice weather, only to have their tent blown over in winds that start up later in the day. That isn’t just bad for their work, but for the work of the artists around them. A blowing tent can take out the tents surrounding it, too. Jeff and Carl are very careful, especially since their work is so heavy.
After the tent is up, Jeff lays down his carpet. The carpet plays several roles: it looks professional, gives his tent clear boundaries, and protects the glass balls that may escape a sculpture during the show. With the carpet down and the tent up, he’s finally ready to set up his walls and support bars and hang his sculptures. The physical labor is done, and he can retire to his hotel until the show begins. To take the edge off, he and Carl visit the legendary Voodoo Doughnut.

Voodoo Doughnuts in a box.

Voodoo Doughnuts in a box. Note the one being stabbed.

They wait in line and get a dozen to eat over the next few days, but after just one each they decide there is just WAY too much sugar for them to keep them all to themselves. They leave the rest in the Artist Hospitality tent at the show. Jeff still claims his favorite doughnut is the Bavarian Cream made by Service Foods in Fergus Falls.

Jeff’s booths tend to be really busy. To set himself apart from the milling patrons, he sits on a stool. That way, if someone wants to talk to him, they can find him easily. Check out his booth on a busy night below:

A busy night in Jeff's booth, St. Louis, MO.

A busy night in Jeff’s booth, St. Louis, MO.

Art in the Pearl took place over Labor Day weekend, and Jeff and Carl spent Labor Day evening making deliveries of sold sculptures. They left Portland on Tuesday morning and embarked upon what Jeff and some of his friends call the “Cannonball Run”, driving cross-country as fast as possible. They had 30 hours to get to St. Louis, MO and had to work in a delivery to Colorado. They managed it and made it to St. Louis with no problems. The drive on Highway 53 through Colorado, they say, was gorgeous.
They had planned to visit some patrons to make repairs upon their arrival in St. Louis, but cut it a little too close and had to make their visits after the show. That’s one unique thing about being kinetic artists: sometimes sculptures needs a little tweaking to keep working beautifully. Luckily, Jeff and Carl are flexible guys who take great pride in their sculptures and do everything they can to keep them looking good and working well.
[If you own a Zachmann that needs a repair, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Visit the Contact page for info.]

The St. Louis Art Fair kicked off without a hitch that first week of September. Jeff met a nice boy with a young sister who deciphered the secret to great art (or great anything): “It’s simple, you just figure out how to do it, then you do it.” Jeff was also characteristically embarrassed by a female fan who saw his work in the Brisbane Airport. “Oh my gosh! It’s you!” she said excitedly. “I saw your piece in Australia!” She then turned to her friend and said “It’s him!”. Jeff explained away the experience as “pretty strange”.
Honestly, I don’t think one can get much more Minnesotan than that when confronted with fame or recognition…

Fun Fact: Jeff and Carl do some restaurant exploration when traveling. They often ask visitors to their booths what’s good in the area, to get the local lowdown. Artists also share recommendations among themselves. In Portland they got sushi, and in St. Louis they visited a local diner one night and enjoyed some Italian on another.

The banner outside Jeff's booth in St. Louis, MO.

The banner outside Jeff’s booth in St. Louis, MO.

On the evening before the last day of the St. Louis Art Fair, a banner appeared outside Jeff’s booth declaring him an award winner. The only way to find out which award he had won was to attend the awards banquet the next morning. “They have to do that in order to get artists to come to the breakfast,” he explained to me. “It used to be the free food would get artists to show up, but now it’s like… It’s too early, they’d rather just sleep”. He managed to be there on time, and as the breakfast unfolded, he got more and more excited. “They gave out all the lesser awards first, and my name wasn’t being called,” he said. Finally, they got to the award that was chosen by the staff of the show in honor of the show’s founder, Sally Murdaugh. She was a gallery owner and lifelong art lover, and relatives of hers flew in from Colorado to bestow the award. Jeff was honored when they called his name. “I’m always amazed when I win an award. I mean, I win more than my fair share of awards. There is always such phenomenal work at these shows that it amazes me when I get chosen over other great artists.” Awards like the Sally Murdaugh Memorial Award are always exciting to win, because the juries are usually driven by taste to pick a winner. That means the people who run the show really like Jeff’s work, and it’s definitely nice to be recognized for greatness by those who are also working hard to bring art to the world.

The Sally Murdaugh Memorial Award, won by Jeffrey Zachmann in St. Louis, MO.

The Sally Murdaugh Memorial Award, won by Jeffrey Zachmann in St. Louis, MO.

The show over and another award under his belt, Jeff is ready to tear down and begin the journey back home to Minnesota. Packing up only takes about an hour. He and Carl do their deliveries and repairs and are back on the road. “I like to joke that I’m an over-the-road truck driver who sells art on weekends,” says Jeff. “People have this idea of the exotic traveling artist, but honestly, I sometimes just feel like a truck driver”. He laughs.
Two weeks and 4500+ miles later, he’s back home.

The Inside Scoop on #702

Zachmann photos (33 of 54)In order to better understand Jeff as an artist, I think it’s important to occasionally sit down with him and have a focused discussion on a single sculpture. And while Jeff is constantly making sculptures, it’s not often that he makes one without a home ready and waiting for it. This is a good problem for an artist to have, but it also means it can be difficult to find the time to talk about a piece before it’s crated up and out the door. I therefore took advantage of #702’s unsold status and asked Jeff to share a bit about his creative process through the work he did on this specific sculpture.

blog702Jeffrey Zachmann Sculpture #702

What did you know about the sculpture before you made it?
Before I made the piece, I just had an idea of the size of the piece I wanted to make. One of the things I try to do is have sculptures in a variety of sizes and prices so patrons at art shows can find something that will fit their space or budget. With this piece I had an idea of the form I wanted. I had made a similar piece in the past and wanted to fine-tune the composition. Sometimes, after looking at a piece I’ve had finished for a while, I start to think I should have done this or that differently. It’s usually a composition thing.

What was difficult about the creation of this piece? How did you get over the difficulties?
This one took me a while to find the right pieces of metal. The blue bits were pieces of a barrel that someone had repainted a couple of times. The sizes of metal pieces let me highlight the over-painted parts. If the pieces would have been larger they would have been too busy for people to really look at. I think the larger vertical piece with the perforations is part of an industrial fan guard. When I found it, it was still shiny and unrusted, but I liked the perforations. I left it out in the weather all winter to get the rust to start forming. The smaller bits of screening are pieces from a larger screen used in sorting gravel and sand. I love this kind of screening as it adds a really nice texture to the sculpture. I’m starting to run out of it and am having a hard time locating more, so it’s nice when I have a couple of small bits like this that fit right in.

What surprised you about the way the piece came together?
When I was building this piece I thought I had messed up a bit and left too large of an open area to the right of the jump. The counterweights for the element that holds the three balls before releasing them (on the left side) gave me a way of filling that spot. It seems like a logical fix now but the problem had me scratching my head for awhile before I came up with it.

What about the piece makes you the most excited?
I really like the high arc the ball takes with this jump. It can be difficult to get it to work right when I do a high arc- the aiming can be difficult- and where the ball ends up can vary unless it’s tuned just right.

How does this sculpture fit in with the rest of your work?
I think my work is a progression of things I’ve learned: how to use the laws of physics to my advantage, how to use the juxtaposition of panels, numbers, and stainless steel, how to construct the frame to work as a both a support structure as well as an artistic element at the same time. I think I’m working toward the perfect sculpture. That’s something that will never happen, though. Each new thing I add to what I’ve learned adds millions of possible combinations to what I already know. Exploring these combinations is what keeps my work interesting.

What do you think of sculpture #702? What interests you most about Jeff’s discussion of his sculpture? Leave comments below.