Monday, July 10, 2017

Fish Sticks

Fish remind me of childhood summers in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Woods Lake, just outside Kalamazoo, was a popular recreational lake dating back to the 1920s. In fact, it used to be called “Kalamazoo’s Coney Island” boasting a merry-go-round, “Dizzy Figure-8” roller coaster and a dance hall. But that was all gone by the time I arrived.

Fishing on the lake was always popular; there were many kinds of fish, even giant ones, because the lake was DEEP and COLD.  I spent many hours fishing there as a child (my favorite food at the time was fish sticks), and also as a teenager. I snorkeled there with my high school chum, Dave, and went sailing there, too, with beer lowered over the edge of the boat into the very cold water.

While there were lots of exotic fish in Woods Lake – pike, muskellunge, largemouth bass and other sport fish, alas, there were no Lion Fish. Or were there?!

I have made many fish over the years. I enjoy the challenge of using recycled materials to express the simple, particular “fishiness” of each kind of fish. For the Lion Fish I used one of my favorite materials, an old tennis racket, made of beautiful white oak, that had been left too close to the elements for too long, causing it to delaminate. It made some excellent “fish sticks.” I also wanted other elements that would give this outlandish looking fish – of the “Hey, look, I’m poisonous!” variety – a lacy, gossamer quality highlighting its fluidly floating spines.

So, my Lion Fish – one of the 26 “oddball” animals that is part of the African Elephant to Zebra Shark: An Alphabet of Oddball Animals 2017 show opening at Artisans Gallery on August 4, 2017 – is made of the following:
A delaminated tennis racket for the body outline and spines
Redwood for the body
Dowels and wire
A spiky lock washer for the eye

L- Lion Fish

Monday, October 3, 2016

Trio of Monkeys

My attraction to monkeys began early in my childhood. I loved Margret and H.A. Rey’s Curious George stories, and I envied his tiny suitcase that he carried everywhere containing all of his important possessions. When I was about 8 years old, I got to meet some real life Curious Georges. My father was employed at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo as a behavioral psychologist, working with animal subjects. He worked with white rats, but his colleague, Dr. Gault, worked with rhesus monkeys. My father would take me along on an occasional weekend task and I got to visit the monkey enclosures. They were always so excited to see humans approaching and their energy and loudness was both scary and exciting. I got to feed them biscuits from large Purina Monkey Biscuit bags. Tiny fingers held out the treat and tiny fingers accepted. I begged to have one of these monkeys as a pet, but my dad concluded that our big old house on Oakland Drive was not big enough for our growing family and a monkey, too.

Western Michigan University also gave me another unexpected, but delightful monkey treat. WMU housed a wonderful experimental teaching school, preschoolers through high school (you could go from preschool to a Ph.D. all in one place!), which I attended since my dad worked there. At one of the yearly children’s book fairs, I got to actually meet Margret and H.A. Rey.

Monkeys are one of my very favorite animal subjects. They are elegant in their simplicity, like real monkeys, and each has a definite personality.

A few components of my monkeys are:
  • Body – Redwood fence posts
  • Legs – Kitchen utensils or old tool handles
  • Arms, ballerina-like – Badminton rackets (tennis rackets are not as elegant)
  • Feet – Old furniture casters or printing wheels
  • Tails – Pieces of a metal strap, and
  • Goofy expressions and hand carved bananas

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"This was no boat accident!"

You might recognize that famous line fine from the movie Jaws. Well, this will not be a story about great white sharks in Michigan (there aren’t any) if that’s what you are thinking. Each summer, my father, a college professor, would load up my mom, older sister, younger brother and me, and we would go on a summer-long adventure. In 1975, the year Jaws came out, we were on the east coast, first in Lewes, DE, and then in Cape Hatteras, NC. In Lewes I spend countless hours riding a bike that belonged to the lodge where we stayed; there was no TV and not much else to do. It was in Lewes, in a tiny old movie theater, that I first saw Jaws. It made a big impact on me; I was both terrified and fascinated.

After Lewes, our next stop was Cape Hatteras, which is on the open ocean. There I spent countless hours walking up and down the beach and swimming in the surf. One day, a pod of dolphins were spotted swimming north just off shore. Of course everyone thought they were great white sharks and quickly got out of the water! We waited there trembling until someone produced a correct identification. That must have happened everywhere that summer – but not in Michigan.

My great white shark, the “g” for the 2016 Felix Kulpa show is reminiscent of that famous star of Jaws – literally since they used a mechanical model instead of a real shark. The materials I used also convey “the great white sharkness of a great white shark.”

The skin is composed of a variety of grey metals:
·          ·     Protective aluminum cover of a missle’s nose cone (nose)
       ·      A old stainless steel fire extinguisher (body)
       ·      Extra large galvanized steel gate hinges and scrap steel (fins)

As well as:
·    Old bone buttons (sewn on for eyes)
·    Handcrafted and sharpened dowels (teeth) in a red mouth
Built like a torpedo or a giant submarine, with vacant eyes and a red ripping mouth, my great white shark is “no boat accident!” either.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Snow In Summer

I was raised in Kalamazoo, MI. It may sound like an old fashioned cliché, but one of my favorite childhood memories is capturing fireflies in a Mason jar. During the intense heat and humidity of those Michigan summers, it was a great treat to play outside in the coolness of the evening. After awhile, the fireflies would begin to wink on in the bushes.

In flight, they always looked like bits of snow to me – the way big dry snowflakes look on a winter’s night under a streetlight, drifting around, never falling to the ground. Fireflies are pretty ordinary looking winged beetles, except that they contain a bioluminescence during twilight that attracts mates or prey – children, of course, would fall into the latter category. Also called lighting bugs, they are slow moving and easy to catch. After a while I’d release them back into the canopy of trees and lush foliage… only to repeat the game the next evening.

This is my first firefly – I don’t know why I didn’t make one sooner! It is the “F” in my 2016 Felix Kulpa show. I am happy that it does indeed express all the “fireflyness” of those magical creatures in my Michigan backyard.


The materials are simple:
- A body of redwood rounds
- Silver-colored shoe tree wings
- Twisty wire legs
- Copper tipped antennae
- A child’s orange Japanese Oak croquet ball from a shop on Whidbey Island, WA    
- An old Mason jar that belonged to my father-in-law...
           It has a light inside the jar, casting an orange glow from under the wings

My firefly has some good forward movement, too – helpful to find a mate or get away from Michigan kids with Mason jars.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blue Elephant and High Tops

Mid-stride in a Modesto antique mart, a dented blue lunch box caught my eye. I have never make an animal from a lunch box… what might this be? Transforming cast off items is much harder than it might seem and it involves quite a bit of risk.

Immediately, I though of an elephant. After all, my own metal Disney lunch box was heavy and clunky, just like the Dumbo on its cover. I remember swinging it through the halls of my elementary school in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

So, from this wonderful old blue lunch box, a blue elephant has emerged, and it is much to my liking. It has taken form with the transformation of the following parts:

1.  Coffee table legs from Port Townsend, WA
2.  Cutting torch tips for tusks
3.  Steamer basket ears
4.  A brass hose nozzle, made in Italy, for the trunk, and
5.  A small used paintbrush for the tail

My Dumbo lunch box didn’t fare that well... It graduated from a lunch box to a coffin. What did it contain? One fall day my dad was tasked with buying me a new pair of winter shoes. We went to Okun Brothers Shoes in Kalamazoo. To my dismay, he chose ones with hard leather soles and brown suede uppers. Kid laughed! So I took those shoes and closed them up in the Dumbo lunch box and I hid it under my parent’s dresser. I wore my Converse high tops all that cold Michigan winter… and the next… and the one after that, too – they are still my go-to favorites. When my parents asked what happened to my leather shoes, I said I had no idea. I got a new Man From Uncle lunch box and a tornado blew the roof off Okun Brothers, scattering shoes all over town.

Spurred on by this successful elephant I have an old Coleman thermos animal that is waiting to be born!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Toaster Yak

“I like toast.” This is what my t-shirt from Bainbridge Island’s Blackbird Bakery says. Is that what I was thinking of as I researched yaks, representing the “Y” letter in the 2015 Felix Kulpa show?

Yaks are interesting creatures, not from around here. They are small, sturdy and shaggy. People put saddles on them, milk them, make clothing from them, and eat them. They have a distinctive back hump, and at first glance, I thought it looked like toast coming out of a toaster.

So I moved forward, shaping the form and character from:

1.  A redwood fence slat,
2.  Stubby tool handle legs, sanded to reveal dark uneven texture, with shaped hooves, 
3.  A carved redwood head,
4.  Horns courtesy of the two handles from a pair of pliers that an Open Studios visitor brought me,
5.  A paintbrush tail,
6.  A heavy chain for leading the yak,
7.   A nose ring not thrown at the Boardwalk carousel’s clown, and
8.  Two pieces of redwood toast.

Not only do I like the juxtaposition of two very different things – a massive, dense yak and a light, airy piece of toast – I like humor and visual puns, and making secret, hidden elements not easily seem. Similar to a secret compartment on an old roll top desk, I have made a number of animals that have a funny or secret compartment – like the drawer filled with cigars that replaced the pouch on my kangaroo, or the vulture make out of an old recipe box that contained a flattened cloth “road kill” (currently on view through August 2015 at the County Government Center).

The secret compartment on my yak has two slices of toast AND painted yellow heating elements – it wouldn’t be a toaster without them! See it in person at the Felix Kulpa Gallery through July 26th.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Snail Sings

I have never made a snail before. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the architecture of a snail, or its ability to carry it’s own shelter. It was just never on my radar until my wife suggested it as an animal that begins with an “s” for my upcoming solo show at the Felix Kulpa Gallery.

I thought it would be hard to infuse a snail with character – my trademark mantra. Let’s face it, a snail has, well, no face. Does it? But I was game, so I began the collection that would become one of my all-time most successful and endearing pieces. “Do we have to part with this one?” I ask my wife.

Here's the parts roundup:

1. A stock of a flintlock pistol
2. Drum sticks
3. Cheese dome and a jar lid
4. Child's game board of the U.S.
5. Small pool ball
6. Spring from a large clock
7. Maple carved teeth

Does a snail have teeth? I am not interested in the answer. I love to make teeth for my animals because they add character and some edginess, necessary components that please me as an artist.

My aim as a creator of quirky animal sculptures is to represent the essence of that animal. The pieces tell me how they will fit, where they will go. I am the vehicle from which they come into existence – the instrument, not the music. A piece that comes together perfectly sings and takes my breath away. It is so satisfying, but it takes lots of arduous work. The singing from my newly finished snail is loud and joyful. “Should I keep it?” I ask my wife again.

Here’s the two different sides of my finished snail. Come see it in person at the Felix Kulpa Gallery beginning First Friday, July 3rd at 6 pm. Let me know if it sings to you, too!