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.


“No Limit To Human Sh*tiness”: Art, Emotion, and Immorality

A recent experience has brought new significance to two abstract and subjective concepts that I often find myself considering in conjunction with art: emotion and morality. I’m not attempting to assert that “emotion” or “morality” are necessarily inherent in works of art. It is not my place to ascribe either of those concepts to a piece in which neither may purposefully exist. Instead, I would like to discuss the place of art in regard to human emotion and moral codes. More to the point, and to sound less like the lecturer I am coming across as currently, I would like to discuss one of my best friends and how she made me remember to hold on to the little things in life.

Arriving home at her apartment late last Sunday night, my friend was attacked and sexually assaulted as she unlocked the door to her building. Someone arrived on the scene and succeeded in scaring the attacker off, but not before the attacker had beaten my friend almost senseless (among other horrible things). My friend was in bad shape that night. Her normally pretty face was swollen and covered in bruises, and she had to have her cheek sewn up where the skin had broken under her assailant’s punches. Her entire body ached severely enough for prescription pain meds even days after the attack. Of course, her physical pain is nothing when compared to the emotional trauma she experienced.

Not surprisingly, my friend’s outlook on the world has darkened considerably since Sunday. After what happened to an intelligent, confident, and hilarious woman like her, I’m inclined to agree with the succinct statement she made after her release from the hospital: “Turns out, there is no limit to human sh*tiness”. Indeed, there is little use arguing against the fact that the world often seems like a morally reprehensible place. The goodness we may try to see in other people is too often overshadowed by the acts that unfortunately end up defining our lives and/or the lives of those closest to us.

When we see the world in such a dark light, it’s almost impossible to think what good something as trivial as art can be for humanity. Art can’t prevent the physical pain that my friend is still feeling almost a week after her attack. Art can’t redeem the world. But can the right kind of art help heal us emotionally? Can it help us re-ascribe to humanity some modicum of morality? Do these questions even matter to anyone but me? I respond with a firm “maybe” to them all.

The truth is, I hate art that tries to force me to think or feel something (the exception to this rule is the work of Banksy, whose identity is hidden and whose art is admirably irreverent and thought-provoking in its blatancy).  It is with an equal intensity that I hate art that makes me feel nothing at all with its bland simplicity (here’s to you, canvases that are painted red or paintings that I could do myself with a single brush stroke). I would of course do well to remind myself of the subjective nature of art: there is a place in the world for art both bland and preachy (I believe bland art is most often found in hotels, but I digress). Many artists creating the work I have disparagingly titled “preachy” are trying to bring awareness to social injustices or environmental causes, and I respect that fully. I think we may all agree, however, that art like that is not art that is easily digested. Art that is full of intention must either confront the viewer with garish obviousness or beg the question What does it mean?, which scares away those who think they can’t “understand art” if they can’t decipher a meaning within the first few minutes of seeing a piece or reading the artist’s statement. Art shouldn’t be about deciphering or about message-shoving. At least, the art we want to heal us emotionally or to re-ascribe a modicum of morality to humanity shouldn’t be like that. No, the art that does the most to lighten our load when the going gets tough is the art I fondly refer to as “unpretentious”: it’s the art that doesn’t attempt to tell us what it is or how to look at it or what to feel or believe or wonder. It’s the art we don’t stare at and ask, What? Why?!. It’s the art we can look at for seconds or minutes or hours without moving and feel completely at peace while we gaze. We shouldn’t have to ask What does it mean?. Instead we should want to ask, What does it mean to me?

One of the first questions I asked Jeff when I started working for him was about emotion. I wanted to know what drove his work, and his answer shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his sculptures. He explained that he makes his sculptures purposefully devoid of emotion. He does want them to be something of a foil to the often dark, thought-provoking works I described above, but he doesn’t achieve that goal by instilling any one emotion or moral message into his own sculptures like “happy” or “healthy planet earth”. Instead, he leaves them completely open to interpretation by the viewer. He doesn’t even name his sculptures for fear that a name would force a reaction. The real interpretation, he says, is expressed in the faces of his viewers. It’s one of the reasons he loves art fairs so much. He doesn’t watch his sculptures at his shows. He watches the faces that crowd into his booths, the eyes that follow the movement of each marble down, around, through spiraling metal and across empty space and back up in an endless cycle. When they watch, he hopes, they lose themselves in the movement. They forget the immorality that plagues the world, the people who attack young women outside their apartments and the pain of living that affects us all to varying degrees. They get to feel the emotions that accompany childlike wonder.

This is a picture Jeff took in Madison, WI of his booth full of people.

This is a picture Jeff took at Art Fair on the Square in Madison, WI of his booth full of people.

So, can art help heal us emotionally? Can it help us re-ascribe to humanity some modicum of morality? I think it can. At the very least, good art can give us a moment to realize that the awful truths of humanity are not the only truths, and that emotional fortitude is not unattainable. A moment may be all we need to reset and regroup for the next onslaught of life uncensored. One thing we must be sure to remember is this: that while people suck and bad things happen, there exist pockets of inherent goodness in the world- in a sculpture, in a book, in playing fetch with a cute dog- and we shouldn’t gloss over those things in our rush to drown in the mire. It’s the happy trivialities that keep us afloat, and we should cling to them for all they’re worth.

Speaking of happy trivialities, here’s a video of sculpture #702. As Jeff would say, lose yourself in the movement.

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.

The First Post

Hello, and welcome to Zachmann Studios’ first blog post! I’m Klara Wagnild, executive assistant to Jeff Zachmann and marketing director for the studio (that means I’m the one in charge of the blog).

clydeandklaraThis is me (sadly the best picture I have of myself currently).

My position as blogger is fitting since I am able to wax philosophical about a piece of art at the drop of the hat, whereas Jeff is too Minnesota-nice to impose that kind of nonsense on anybody without them asking first. I come by my skills honestly after spending four years in college studying philosophy and my whole life being interested in art. Jeff was kind enough (and busy enough) to consider employing me and my questionable abilities just a few months ago. I have enjoyed every minute of my work for Jeff and am looking forward to becoming even more involved in the art world as time goes on. But enough about me. Welcome to Zachmann Studios!

Zachmann Studios is home to the kinetic sculptures of Jeffrey Zachmann and the machine art of Carl Zachmann. The father-son duo work independently to create intriguing static pieces that, when set in motion, become captivating. Each sculpture they create is unique. Jeff bends, welds, bolts and screws stainless steel and found metal into the framework for a sculpture. His pieces favor a lift system that is visually suited to each sculpture’s framework and moves marbles through a fascinating and seemingly endless path. Carl’s sculptures explore the designs and textures of our industrial past through the use of moving gears on static backgrounds. Here are some examples of the artists and their work:

jeffsmilingThis is Jeff: Kinetic sculptor extraordinaire, all around nice guy.

453This is one of Jeff’s pieces at the airport in Brisbane, Australia.

20130618_143719This is Jeff hard at work in the studio.

20130618_143720This is Jeff’s “hard at work” face.


This is Jeff’s sculpture #690.

headshotThis is Carl.

SN 002 JPGThis is Carl’s sculpture SN 02.

archeologycarleditThis is Carl engaged in his other passion, archeology.


Here are Carl and Jeff in a photobooth at Carl’s wedding to his lovely wife, Krista.

So, why the blog, you ask? Blogs may be an artistic medium of their own, but used by and for artists, they can offer a unique glimpse into the creation of new works and the lives and creative processes of the artists themselves. This blog exists to actively place Zachmann Studios in the discourse of contemporary art. The blog will be updated frequently to reflect the activities of Zachmann Studios. New sculptures, inspirations, reactions to shows, and passions will all be discussed.  Comments on posts are encouraged, and the artists and I can be reached in a variety of ways for further conversation. Check out our Contact page here, and thanks for reading the first post!