Fabricators and the Artists That Use Them



In 1504, how many building code variances, engineering drawings, insurance forms, written proposals and maquettes did 28 year old Michelangelo have to submit to an art-in-public-places committee before installing his 17 foot tall carved marble “David” sculpture in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy?

Since he completed the entire sculpture in 1501, Michelangelo most likely showed the work to his patrons and a city official or two before installation.

For artists who think big these days, things have changed a bit since the Renaissance. It’s a rare contemporary sculptor who has the studio space, verifiable engineering expertise and free time to build full scale monuments without a team of assistants and preferably a signed commission contract.

Enter the fabricator’s shop/studio, the new haven for those who choose to slay the bureaucratic Goliaths surrounding both publicly and privately funded monumental sculpture projects.
New Mexico sculptor Karen Yank, who has many public and private commissions in her resumé, was jury selected to be the lead artist on the GRIP I-40 Coors Freeway Interchange project.

“I knew on the first day that I wouldn’t be able to act as a design consultant and produce more than 500 linear feet of Corten and stainless steel sculpture within the construction timeframe without a lot of help,” Yank said.

Yank, who counts among her formative friends Agnes Martin and Alexander Calder, turned to fabricator and founder of CMY Incorporated Damon Chefchis, who began building his own sculpture and doing custom and contract work for others more than 15 years ago.

Yank explains that she and Chefchis, who does his design layout work with a computer, have worked on a number of projects and have achieved a mutual understanding and comfortable working relationship.

“I see my role as a chameleon that absorbs and reflects the aesthetics of the artists I work with. Since I’ve completed projects with more than 50 artists, I have the experience to deal with problems before they happen,” Chefchis said during a studio visit. “In Karen’s freeway project, we were able to emulate her welding style to the point that she couldn’t tell her work and ours apart. But our biggest contribution was that our five welders working full time with her designs took eleven months to finish the job. Karen by herself would have taken five years to do the same amount of work.”

New Mexico Inspired II by Karen Yank
with fabrication by Damon Chefchis at CMY.
Photo by Robert Reck

The beautifully executed highway project led to Yank receiving a commission from former Mayor Martin Chavez for two 20 foot tall free-standing sculptures at the same site. The entire Coors Freeway project is now part of the Permanent Art Collection of the City of Albuquerque.

Multi-media artist Matthew Lutz, who focuses on painting and some studio scale sculpture when he isn’t teaching art, recently turned to Chefchis to help with a large public sculpture for the City of Rio Rancho.

“I go back and forth about whether I want other people to work on my art, but from the get-go I knew this design needed more than one person,” Lutz said on the phone.

“This project to build a series of monumental gateways for the University of New Mexico West Campus requires the use of a crane to lift each section onto cast concrete plinths. Damon has that hands-on experience and was even able to walk me through the paperwork and application process”.

Lutz also credits his wife and computer savvy teenage son for helping with his presentation.

When master welder, high steel worker and sculptor Joe Doyle needed money several years ago, he designed and built contemporary metal furniture and decorative lizards for 26 galleries in Santa Fe and other locations. When sales peaked at 200 pieces a month, Doyle decided to consider other options.

“You know, I got bored reproducing the same ideas so I decided to find more interesting challenges,” Doyle said during a shop visit.

Doyle is a partner at Pace Iron Works in Albuquerque. His company fabricates everything from architectural details, complete buildings and bridges to large scale and miniature sculpture.

In 2008 Doyle was commissioned to build a 12 foot tall aluminum sculpture designed by East Coast sculptor Jon Hair. The piece, painted with a multi-hued automotive finish, was designated for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.

Isleta Pueblo Tribal Council Chambers designed by RMKM Architecture with stainless steel installation by Joe Doyle at Pace Iron Works.
Photo by Kirk Gittings

More recent projects include a huge stainless steel woven screen for the Isleta Pueblo Tribal Council Chambers designed by Rhode, May, Keller and McNamara Architecture under project principle Don May. The project won an American Institute of Architects Award for excellence.

“Though we provided guidelines, models and drawings, we gave Joe (Doyle) freedom to interpret our design. We had a very good working relationship with Joe, who was excited by the project and did a wonderful job,” Dave Williams, project architect with RMKM Architecture, said. “He was out there every day with suggestions and technical advice. Joe put his best people on the job. We’re very pleased with the outcome.”





The Isleta project consumed 10,000 linear feet of four inch steel tubing cut into 20 foot lengths for transport and then welded into compound spiral curves.

“I can be proud of what we accomplished out there and feel like we built something useful that really looks good. You know it's the best you can do when it all comes together like that one did,” Doyle said.

For more than 40 years Shidoni Foundry has served the needs of more than 1,000 sculptors. The foundry, sculpture garden and gallery have evolved from founding artist Tommie Hicks’ vision of an artists’ community in Tesuque.

“We offer a full service facility for both figurative and abstract artists working in bronze and other metals,” Tommie’s son Scott Hicks said on the phone.

One of their largest projects was the casting of the controversial 34 foot tall monumental scale portrait of Oñate by sculptor John Houser, now installed in El Paso.

Santa Fe painter and sculptor Carlo Carulo, who studied architecture before becoming a full time artist, needs all of his studio space to paint his “situational” abstractions, so when he receives a commission for one of his welded aluminum sculptures hand finished with automotive paints, he sends his sketches or maquettes to sculptor and master metal smith Lyle London at Art In Metal USA in Arizona.

“I’m comfortable with collaboration. I really enjoy the interactive, idea rich environment of group effort. Lately I’ve been involved with film making and have been doing a lot of computer aided design,” Lyle London said on the phone. “For me this is the future of art as it springs from the complexity of the human mind to be sorted out with CAD programming. I don’t see the end of the old crafts; I see computers as a new set of tools leading to a new beginning for the arts.”

Wesley Pulkka is an artist, critic, and arts writer for New Mexico and national publications.

Originally appeared in The Collector’s Guide - Volume 26

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