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!”
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.
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.
“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.