Grappling with the Maestro
WARREN — In the coming weeks, metal artist Jay Sawyer, of Warren, hopes that inspiration strikes and he can begin hammering away at the maestro's head. To be exact, just the back of the head, but it will still take the right moment before he will bring heat and hammer to metal.
This winter and spring, Sawyer has been working on a commissioned metal sculpture for a couple from Delaware, for whom he has done other pieces. The wife and a friend had stumbled onto Sawyer's sculpture garden off Route 90 one summer, and that's how they met.
"They recently bought a summer home in Stockbridge, Mass., and wanted something for their great room that honors what brought them to that area — music — and Tanglewood," said Sawyer. "They wanted a celebration piece, a tribute to music and its influence on the area and them."
Working with the clients, the idea was to create a conductor in silhouette. And the conductor would be seen from the audience' perspective, from the back.
Working it through his mind, Sawyer wandered through his vast supply of metal. Some of it is piled on shelves both inside and out behind his studio, some is piled alongside a driveway that extends into the sculpture garden, and some has been sitting on the bed of a truck for a while.
Nearly all of what he has came from somewhere else, and it turns out, a portion of a large chunk of twisted steel he salvaged a few years ago was the perfect fit.
"I was studying wrinkles for sleeves and I was looking around the yard when I found it,” he said.” It was in a pile of metal on the flatbed, it had nice folds and movement, and it was radical," said Sawyer. "The raw material for a lot of my work is reclaimed, and this metal was pulled up from the American Can Company plant in Portland. It was demolished in 2013 and I got invited to go there and salvage some materials."
Sawyer said he was able to pull a lot of "cool materials" from that salvage, with some effort on his part and for no out-of-pocket money.
He likes it when it works out that way. Back in 1994, Sawyer had a welding and mobile repair business. It's how he became known in the area for his welding skills, and his love of scavenging. Eventually, sparks from his own sense of humor, irony and beauty collided with his "work," and resulted in his unique art form.
Even today, Sawyer said that if he waits until the end of a job, and if there is something that is not high in value and someone is going to have to cut it up to get rid of it, they will often call him in and then let him take it off their hands. Sawyer said property owners are happy to see it go, just happy to get it off their property.
"Like a lot of my pieces, it's neat to know the conductor's coast has history, as having once been an old deck plate at the can company. And where the metal was all mangled, it had rolls and curves in it and just by studying the metal, I had a huge head start on my piece in that pile," said Sawyer.
Using a biker buddy as his model, he sketched it out and began the work at the end of December. He had to learn how to deal with the proportions of the silhouette, which forced him to make one arm shorter than the other, even though logic told him otherwise.
"At the time, I was thrown, but looking back now, the fact that one arm is forward, and so it's shorter, it's no big deal," said Sawyer.
Sawyer's model was also left handed, and so his original sketch and metalwork was with a conductor holding a baton in his left hand. Another learning curve. And a modification he had to make to ensure this sculpture was accurate, because he said he eventually researched and learned there are only two conductors who conduct left-handed, and one of those switched hands because it was easier for them to change, than to ask an entire orchestra to adjust.
Sawyer doesn't usually work on literal pieces, though he has really enjoyed how the conductor project has come together. More often, Sawyer melds and welds together found objects into abstract art.
Sure, he has a huge mushroom in the garden, overlooking a small natural pond, and a large outline of a red bottle called "Playing Catch-up," but nearly everything else is abstract. Sawyer is also known for his spheres, some of which are made by welding horseshoes together and others using railroad spikes.
Then, the pieces are given names that either fit how the piece looks, what it's made of or where the components originated, or a combination of all those things.
"For this same client, I made a piece out of some rebar and because it looked like a duck, I named it 'Dump Duck,'" said Sawyer. "She loved it, and then the next summer, they came back to Maine and bought two more pieces."
One piece Sawyer has in his Stemwinder Sculpture Garden is called "Stick a Fork In It." It's made of all the spokes from a Model T wheel. Sticking into the top, as one can imagine, is a two-tine pitchfork.
"When I welded the last spoke, I was trying to figure out what to do next and it came to me, stick a fork in it, it's done," said Sawyer.
Along with a time traveler he started fully realizing for "Back to the Future Day," Sawyer also is creating away on what he is calling a "Madonna" piece. The softly twisted metal came from the same pieces that comprise the conductor, and as Sawyer has slowly cut away pieces from it for other projects, to him the heavenly mother and eventually, a baby, are coming forward.
"I have an idea falling off my head. It's about ready to break open. It's so close," said Sawyer.
In fact, one of the pieces of metal he cut away from the Madonna project was the for conductor's collar.
"Pound for pound, I spent a lot of time on that collar to get it to look just right. That one little strip of metal, it's really cool, but it's funny to see how it came together," said Sawyer.
On the day we met up with Sawyer, he had essentially completed the conductor's coat and hands. That piece would next be sandblasted and then powder coated a flat black finish. The next step in the project was the conductor's head. What he had sitting on a machine in his shop was the back of a head, which was all he needed, due to how the completed sculpture would be mounted high on a wall on a field stone fireplace.
"When my buddy stood inside the coat and I looked at him from behind, I could just make out the ears so I will have to add those," said Sawyer. "I'm waiting for that inspiration to hit me. It's close, and the more I think about the Madonna, the more I feel ready to finish the head."
Sawyer is calling this sculpture "The Maestro," and the finished design calls for some music notes and stardust coming off the end of the baton. The music notes will be powder coated in gloss black and the stardust, made of varying lengths of thin metal rods, will be chrome to give them a sparkle.
"He is spreading the music, the magic, you know?" said Sawyer.
Visit Jay Sawyer and Stemwinder Sculpture Garden and Studio online at jaysawyer.com.