M I K E  S H A F F E R 

Reconstruction at my studio

After the tornado

 

Lucy in the Sky, University of
Maryland, About 14 x 12 x 10 feet,
1994

 

 

 

 

 

ART STORIES


Tragedy In the Maryland Hills , , ,

In the 1990s I was using female names from 70's rock songs as titles for the large-scale installations. "Lucy," from Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds by the Beatles, was acquired in 1995 by the University of Maryland University College, a constituent institution of the University System of Maryland. Originally part of group exhibition the year before, Lucy has had an interesting life. In 2001 a devastating tornado swept across the area inflicting considerable damage to surrounding buildings and causing two deaths. As luck would have it, Lucy was in the center of the storm's path and as it passed it distributed here precious pink and red parts a half a mile or so across the U of M campus, her stately pine forest backdrop trashed in the mayhem. Reconstructed a few months later on her grassy knoll, Lucy, "that little red house" people call it, has become a landmark and point of reference for travelers, visitors and residents in the area.

The Fire Marshal . . .

It was a bright sunny day on Stonestreet Avenue where my studio was located in the seventies and the tall garage doors were open in most of the bays. I was doing a lot of welding in those days and having the doors open helped dissipate the fumes. A large metal screen was on my work table. What made it interesting was the ceramic appearance of the plates that made up its surface created by applying bright colored enamel with heat, a process that created a fair amount of—what we would today call "toxic emissions." As luck would have it the fire marshal was making his rounds and there I was with a can of spray paint in one hand and a welding torch in the other as clouds of black smoke curled up and out the door. The guy just about had a heart attack but we talked a while and I got off with a warning and had to put up some signs about where the exits were.


A Curious Site . . .

I spent two days installing a large outdoor sculpture and after taking a few snapshots, decided to come back the next day to take some better photos. When I arrived and stepped out of the car it was apparent that something was not as it had been the day before. The scene hung heavy and had an odd air about it. At my feet, surrounding my new creation glistening red in the bright sun and extending over the horizon as far as the eye could see, a thick layer of soft brown sludge glistened it own colors of gray and brown for miles around. It took over a month for where ever it is that stuff like that goes, presumably into the ground, and maybe the grass was greener when I was finally able to come back and get my photos but as the saying goes, you couldn't prove it by me.


A Dubious Job Offer . . .

I had just gotten into the art biz but had a regular job with a research firm in Arlington, Virginia. One day I related this story to the firm's president who later did a great job of retelling it to Reader's Digest. It was published in 1967:

An artist friend was installing a sculpture of old exhaust pipes on the wall of a new office building. The electrical contractor, who was finishing up his job, showed puzzled interest. "Did they pay you for that?" he asked. "Sure," replied my friend. "Really?" said the contractor starting to walk away. But then he turned and asked, "You want a job?" My friend hesitated. "I mean it," the contractor went on, "If you can sell that, I want you working for me!"


Sculpture: 10 Cents a Pound . . .

The machine shop beside my studio wanted to expand and offered me a generous financial incentive to move a few doors down. Included in the arrangements was their willingness to have someone haul away the excessive quantity of scrap metal I had accumulated. When I went to the studio one say I was shocked to find that not only had their someone hauled off every piece of metal that was not new and straight but also a half dozen or so finished and partially assembled works. If there is a lesson to be learned here it is that art made from scrap metal can be art in the gallery but in the company of more scrap metal remains scrap metal—especially to people like their Mr. Someone who probably sold it for the going rate for scrap metal, say, 10 cents a pound.



Going Green in the Seventies . . .

In the early seventies I was involved with a number of design-related projects, one of which attracted the attention of one of my interior designer friends who arranged with a national home and garden magazine to include a description of it in one of their monthly issues. The subject of all the attention was a lighting fixture in our bathroom. I was frantically hurrying to make the surroundings as presentable as possible when my friend arrived at the door with one of the magazine's editors, a photographer, a couple of assistants and a mound of paraphernalia. I soon heard a few whispers and having hurried from the airport to my place, the editor slipped from sight a few minutes to hurry off to the "restroom." The restroom of course was the bathroom I had been prepping for the photo shoot by, in keeping with the trends of the day, painting the toilet seat a kitschy shade of green. I don't know how fast the paint dried but I didn't see any green on the editor's skirt and I didn't ask about the condition of her derriere.




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