The Craft Market on Balance: Metal Art and Sculpture

Artist Bud Scheffel on anticipating the market

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Bud Scheffel has a passion for art; a gift for creating high-end sculpture in metal and glass; and has had the rare ability to both anticipate new markets and to know how to create products that sell well to discriminating, high-end buyers.

He started his career in 1982, at age 22, traveling internationally as a graphic designer and art director and worked all over the U.S., Europe and Asia, including in Milan, Paris, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and New York. Upon his return in 1987, he started his own ad agency in New York City, which he later moved to the Catskill Mountains near Woodstock, New York.

He met his future wife and partner, Ursula Perry, who was principal in her own business – a rep firm devoted to the American Craft and International Gift industries. Together they pooled their resources to launch Earth Saver Wind Sculpture, which became known as one of the most progressive, inspiring metal craft lines of home and garden sculpture in the gift industry.

“When we started, there were very few companies doing metal sculpture, but I did a lot of research and saw that there was a need for the many mail order catalogs to have beautiful art pieces to feature on the cover. I’d called on Plough & Hearth Magazine when I was selling advertising, and my wife was already selling her company’s wind chimes to them, so I reached out to their gift buyer first and began working with them and other mail order catalogs to sell my original metal sculptures for home and garden.

“My work became very popular, and I sold to every mail order house you could think of.  In fact, for a while it was just me and three or four other guys in the country selling that, and we built up metal as a strong category over four or five years until it was a major art form, as it is now, for the garden. But about ten years ago, China entered the market and in a few short years they killed the industry for the independent artists by copying our concepts and our designs and then selling them far more cheaply. We couldn’t compete and were forced to move from wholesale to retail sales if we wanted to survive – today, there’s no wholesale market for American-made in this category.”

For Scheffel, the unwelcome push out of the wholesale market meant rethinking his entire business model. It also got him thinking differently about himself as an artist and about what type of art he wanted to do.

“The economics outside wholesale were very different. I moved from selling seventy-four to a hundred and forty-four units at a time to companies to selling one-by-one at retail. Fortunately, my kids were grown and our expenses were less, so I could sell direct to consumers and make it work. I also discovered the upside for me, which was that working as an artist again gave me the chance to focus on the creative side of the work rather than on the administrative and business ends, which were what I’d had to do to support a large production model. But very few working artists have that luxury. And now, the retail craft business is changing again, this time because of the Internet.

“What you see when you go to most craft shows is the majority of vendors selling items that cost $100 or less. What that means is that you have to make a lot of product quickly, and you need to sell a lot to even make back the cost of your booth, which can cost thousands of dollars for the more exclusive shows.

“I’ve concentrated my efforts on the high-end, juried shows. There are about twenty that I go to, and you will find work there being sold in the $500/$1000/$5000+ range, but it takes a lot to get accepted at that level, and you have to be prepared to pay your dues first.

“I think the best shows are the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore, One of a Kind in Chicago, the Smithsonian Craft Show in D.C., and for outdoor garden – the Philadelphia Flower Show, which is great because it’s an eight or nine day show with 300,000 attendees. It’s one of the biggest in the garden world.

Bud Scheffel, www.earthsaverwindsculpture.com, is rethinking his current business model and moving more toward large sculpture and corporate work, since he’s seeing fewer quality retail craft shows and the market is undergoing more change.

“I see a lot fewer new vendors at the craft shows these days, and many who are there have been in the industry a long time and seem to me to be less willing to change and try new ideas. However, I do believe quality will endure and that those who make good products can make headway if they do their research and learn the business as well as the art side.

“I’d particularly recommend learning how to market and price your work, getting good quality studio photos done to showcase your pieces properly, and researching to find out which shows are best for you to attend. Zapplication is the best reference site for that, and you can also check Sunshine Artist Magazine, which does a report of show rankings.

Arts to Market celebrates the work of artists, innovators and arts organizations and shares advice on balancing the creative life with arts marketing and business development.

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Woodworking on Wheels – Pop-up Arts Ed

Beth Ireland, Wood Sculptor and Educator

Many folks may not realize it if they don’t have kids,  but schools are besieged right now, lacking classrooms, and no more art, shop, or science class. But I’ve seen how much of a difference introducing art can make in their lives.  –Beth Ireland

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13 Beth Ireland bagThinking outside the box comes naturally to Beth Ireland. Whether making herself a feature in her own art installation (well, that was in a box she built – but definitely non-traditional); mixing wood with tinsel, polymer, toys and other unusual material to create bowls and vessels; or as in her recent adventure, turning a cargo van into a wood turner’s traveling workshop; she takes a novel approach people love.

The cargo-van-workshop also has a mini bedroom and bath to serve as mobile living quarters when Ireland is on the road traveling to schools and colleges to teach woodworking across the country. She coordinates with project partner, Artist Jenn Moller who shares her passion for bringing art instruction to kids, particularly those in troubled areas, whose districts (more and more these days) don’t have budget for arts education. Now in its fourth year, their program called Turning Around America, has introduced thousands of kids to woodturning and woodworking, and the results can serve as a model for future thinking about arts ed.

“When we conceived of a traveling educational program, our main goal was to empower people through the simple act of making an object in wood. The first project consisted of a seven-month journey around the country teaching hand skills through wood turning and woodworking to as many groups and individuals possible,” says Ireland. Given that today a lot of adults as well as kids don’t learn how to use tools to build and fix things as they once did; that alone would have been great, but Ireland and Moller also discovered that young people really latched onto what they were doing.

Their most recent program, entitled Turning Around Boston, was part of an initiative sponsored by the Eliot School to bring a basic woodworking experience to Boston Public School students who ranged in age from kindergarten through high school. Ireland and Moller, along with local volunteers, introduced more than 1,000 young people to woodworking. According to Moller, “The most consistent statement we heard from teachers and parents was, ‘I have never seen them concentrate so well.’” Moller said she’s wondered, “What is it about working with tools to solve problems that engages so many students? I believe it is in our human DNA and, as budgets are cut and electives are eliminated, the wonderful benefit of developing hand skills and working in wood has been taken away from many public school children. It is one thing to understand this intellectually and another to witness the besieged state many schools are in because of funding problems and problematic politics”. Ireland agrees and has great concern about the increasing disparity between the haves and have-nots in our society. She’s seeing so many children who are being left behind in areas where arts education is considered a luxury.

“What we’ve also seen is that kids can have very different responses to the opportunity – those with less access and privilege often have been some of our most creative and motivated students. Whereas some schools we’ve visited that had many thousands of dollars’ worth of tools and equipment, but people there weren’t getting the kids excited and engaged, so it was all going unused.” Ireland’s also run programs outside the U.S. including one last fall in Guatemala – where adults and kids were both involved in the program and were often very interested in designing their own custom tools for work and home.

Next up for Ireland is to run a woodturning intensive for adults at the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine from January through March 2014. But more arts ed will also be happening, and she welcomes invitations from schools and communities to bring woodworking and art to their hometown. More information is at http://bethireland.net and www.turningaroundamerica.com.

Beth Ireland is a Woodturner/Sculptor who draws upon a lifetime of professional, traditional Woodturning/Woodworking skills to explore sculpture, architecture and relational aesthetics. Her belief in the power of the object drives her work, exploring the idea of memory locked in objects, and the creation of object as a visible symbol of memory. Working alone and collaboratively she delves into the anthropological meaning of making in our modern lives.

Arts to Market celebrates the work of artists, innovators and arts organizations and shares advice on balancing the creative life with arts marketing and business development.

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Gold, Silver and Tin: Metalsmithing with Marlene True

Marlene True, Metal Sculptor

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As an undergraduate student, Marlene True thought she would pursue ceramics, her first love in art. But when she took an elective in metal work, she found she loved the range of materials and techniques that involved.

She did find it challenging to find ways to bring color to the metal work, but that changed when she heard a lecture by Bobby Hansson, author of The Fine Art of the Tin Can, which provided a whole new medium that she found she loved and is still using today in her art along with other metals.

Tin cans, which are actually made from mild steel with a thin tin coating, proved to be colorful, lightweight, yet structurally strong, so allowed for working in larger pieces. True knew that in the process of fabricating, soldering would remove painted images, but discovered she could use gold plating and powder coating to get the surface color she wanted.  Fabrication methods such as Cold-connecting gave her the ability to build pieces while retaining the original color or image.

True started working with tin ten years ago and, by 2008, she felt really established with it.  She sold at craft shows and found she loved talking with people and engaging – and saw that consumers often wanted to share what they knew about the history of some of her found tin items – whether they were food cans, cosmetic tins, or other types of old containers. She also enjoyed doing research and finding out more about the product’s background and how it had changed – both in its graphic design and usage over the years. When at one point her work turned to using bottle caps to make tiny spoons and other items, she discovered people had some very particular brand loyalty to favorite types of soda and beer!

While selling at craft shows she found that she needed to make a lot of production items to have enough inventory to sell, and through that process learned she preferred working at her bench making one of a kind pieces which kept the work moving in new directions.

Following graduate school at East Carolina University, she was invited to teach at Pocosin Arts in Columbia, North Carolina. She enjoyed the experience and asked to do a metalwork residency and, since they didn’t have their own metal studio, she brought her own bench and material and had a fantastic experience. True then helped write a grant to get a metals program started and, when the grant came through, she stayed on to teach a Jewelry and Business class. “It’s a great place to be, and now we have students and teachers coming from all over for all sorts of metals and jewelry classes.”

True has embraced the business side herself and believes artists must be prepared to be active with that if they want to gain traction for their art and career. “It’s time-consuming. You have to order materials, do your accounting, handle photography and advertising, attend shows, and teach courses. Perhaps you can get help with some of it, but most people have to expect to spend about fifty percent of their time on the business side of the work. It’s best if you can view it as part of your creative process.”

Personally, True has found that the big challenge is managing her time. “You can easily spend every waking hour doing your artwork and what’s related to it. I try to keep a balance with my personal life – and find that stepping away for a bit helps me get refreshed to do better in my art.”

Her main tip for artists is: Don’t rush! “I find when I teach, students are often anxious to get to the end point of a project quickly. I tell them that, if they try to find a shortcut and rush through the work, they’ll usually pay for it in the end trying to correct something that a little more time spent in the beginning would have made a non-issue.”

For those interested in working in metal, she recommends The Society of North American Goldsmiths, which was the most helpful to her in learning more about the field through conferences, workshops and the opportunity to meet other artists. “They run a lot of exhibitions of work, so people can enter art into shows. I’ve also found their Maker’s Profiles very helpful because it provides a place for people to post images of their work and news about what they’re doing – like a mini website, but even better because you get the benefit of traffic from a large audience.”

True is now Director of Pocosin Arts, where she still does some teaching and continues with her own artwork. Her work can be seen at Penland Gallery, Penland, NC; Dow Gallery, Deer Island, ME;

Metal Museum Store, Memphis, TN; Facèré Gallery, Seattle, WA; and Equinox Gallery, San Antonio, TX. She’ll be teaching at Thomas Mann Studio Flux in New Orleans from October 30 – November 5 and then in scheduled to teach at West Dean College in Chichester, West Sussex, UK from May 2 – 5.

Arts to Market celebrates the work of artists, innovators and arts organizations and shares advice on balancing the creative life with arts marketing and business development.

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From bulldozers to fine art with David Gelfman

 

David Gelfman, Metal Sculptor

“A visitor to my studio is just as apt to find me repairing somebody’s bulldozer as creating fine art,” says David Gelfman. “To me, the activities are not as different as they sound”. Indeed, Gelfman’s work delivers an exciting fusion of the industrial functionality of a bulldozer, and the form, delicacy and taste expected from fine art.

David Gelfman was immersed in the mechanics of creating at an early age. In his adolescence, Gelfman spent summers working for a metal fabricator, picking up tricks of the trade along the way. He also shared his father’s wood-shop in his own basement, and explored furniture design, along with many other skills. Gelfman’s insatiable fascination with machinery and farm implements has followed him since childhood. As a ten year old, he developed this interest, and continues to collect a range of machinery today. Gelfman realized his destination as an artist during his undergraduate education at St. Lawrence University (New York) and graduated with a BA in 1989. During the pursuit of his MFA (Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute, in Baltimore), Gelfman “began to focus in on the mechanics of creating the imagery that had previously just inhabited [his] imagination.” Since 1994, Gelfman has worked out of his studio in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The studio is a large barn, filled with a collection of mid twentieth century machine tools, as well as Gelfman’s in-progress works.

David Gelfman’s work flourishes from his expertise in manipulating materials. Through his ability to physically construct, Gelfman has produced a myriad of different types of work. Gelfman describes one piece, designed for and displayed at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art (Ridgefield, CT): “Many of the largest works Iʼve done are the result of [my] preoccupations with older technologies. One piece I did was a submarine which was in a show at The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. We were asked to create works that were site specific. I made up a little dreamlike situation of the tide  leaving this submarine behind. I often have a childish beginning to a piece.” Gelfman’s sculptural work is based in concept, as well as the artist’s mental imagery constructed in quite a physical manner. In his purely sculptural work, Gelfman’s inspiration seems ever-changing, but draws from interests in antique machinery (submarines as well as tractors, sawmills and steam locomotives), geometry, and his six months a year spent managing commercial fishing expeditions. He has worked on pieces that are interactive, and considers the relationship between the sculpture and the viewer to be significant.

Along with working on purely sculptural pieces, Gelfman has worked extensively on functional creations. With the advantage of education in both materials and visual art, Gelfman pours much of his focus on artistic architectural metal work: staircases, railings, custom furniture, fans. Although these pieces are as functional as any piece built in a factory, Gelfman’s artistic taste and style shine through; his ability to create a form that balances artistry and operation is truly unique.

As a creative, Gelfman recognizes and speaks on the struggle that a career in the art world presents: “Art-making can be a compulsion that is difficult to control and it can go on hiatus.” Gelfman suggests a “healthy dose” of activities not based in creating art in order to stay balanced, and states that much of his time is spent working technically. However, it is hard to believe that this routine does not, at the end of the day, benefit his art, both in terms of skill and concept. The continued technical exposure to machinery informs his functional designs and influences his sculptural forms. This back-and-forth interaction gives Gelfman’s work the advantage of impeccable craft and the attraction of being conceptually unparalleled. While his sculptures are delicately constructed from the basis in large-scale machinery, Gelfman’s artistic architectural metal designs are decorative and entertaining, yet undeniably conceptual and of course, completely functional. David Gelfman’s harmonic integration of industrial mechanics and artistic finesse allow his work, sculptural or functional, to succeed and grow through his career. “I would say […] that I have been able to create unique things and demonstrate a singular style that is gratifying. I find that my work and materials do evolve…”

Gelfman has exhibited work in galleries in Connecticut and New York. Two large-scale steel sculptures remain on permanent display at the Connecticut Childrenʼs Medical Center in Hartford, CT. Gelfman has worked on private sculptural commissions, custom interior and furniture design and fabrication. He also recently finished renovating his own home.                                                                                  –contributed by Jordan Marker

 

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Pursuing sculpture in clay, metal and glass: Immi Storrs

Immi Storrs, Sculptor and Glass Artist

What advice do you have for beginning sculptors?

I learned many years ago about working in clay was that water-based clay is a much more tactile, but loses some of its spontaneity because it needs to be kept wet. Plasticine has an odor that I don’t like, and people will find it doesn’t take thumbprints like water-based clay, but it does not need to be kept wet. And those clays need to be put in a more permanent medium, unless they are hollow without an armature, and can be fired. The other material that is interesting is plaster. It can be slathered over an armature and then chiseled or rasped away. The plaster when done takes very interesting patinas. I use water-based colors for that.

What was the biggest challenge in marketing yourself as a sculptor at the start?

The biggest challenge in marketing myself early on was finding a gallery. As my work is cast in bronze, which is very expensive, and that made my work expensive. Not many galleries are willing to take on new artists whose work is expensive because the market is not there. Galleries, at least here in New York, have enormous costs and they need to be able to sell their artists.

How have you differentiated yourself?

My work is different because I do mostly animals. You can tell what they are, whether it’s a horse or cow or bird, but the horse may have four heads and four tails. And my animals are all generic, though you can tell whether my bird is a water bird or a raptor, You don’t know what kind of water bird or raptor.

My new work is on glass. Having had multiple hand and wrist injuries, I needed to change my technique as clay was much too difficult. I use a paint on multiple panes to create a 3-D effect that some people find disturbing, so I guess my technique works. I think of my new work as both painting and sculpture.

How do you work with glass?

The technique I’ve developed, which is to work with a series (usually six or seven) stacked glass panels that I’ve painted on and sometimes etched, allows me to create dimensionality and to look as though the subject is encased in the glass – in fact, some people have asked how I got the wasp or bird in there. What I’ve actually done is to design, for example with the eagle, so that the front wing is on the first pane and the other wing is on the last pane with body parts in between to make the piece look three-dimensional. It’s challenging because when I make a change on one pane, I have to look at how it impacts all the others, so I’m forever moving the panes around to line them up in a particular way. I use special glass paint, and I also did finally find out that I can get a type of seamed glass, which means that the edges are sanded down and smooth, so now I’m not cutting myself on the ragged edges.

Immi Storrs is an award-winning sculptor, whose work is in museums and corporate collections, including The National Museum for Women in the Arts, The National Academy Museum, and The Herbert Johnson Museum at Cornell. She recently completed eleven sculptures for Japan Airlines, and she’s a member of  The Century Association and The Sculptors Guild.

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