August 4, 2014
For Monty Kollath, a degree in commercial art and a career in automotive repair work provided a nice living and positioned him well for a little moonlighting as a metal artist. However, Kollath had one more factor in his favor—his job in the auto repair field provides an endless supply of cast-off items suitable for metal sculpture.
If you were to ask 10 people to name a few prerequisites for getting started in metal sculpting, you’d probably get 10 different answers. No single set of criteria leads to this vocation, and the backgrounds are as varied as the artists themselves. Case in point: Monty Kollath has three that are unrelated to each other.
After completing a program in automobile body repair from Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wis., he worked in auto repair for several years before going back to school for a degree in commercial art. Since then his career has been a mix. He mainly works for a paycheck doing auto repairs and paint work, but he augments it by moonlighting in his garage, creating murals; making business signs; and doing custom paint jobs for cars, trucks, and motorcycles.
With two degrees on his resume, he spent decades working toward excellence—pristine bodywork and perfect paint jobs—and later he went off in a new direction: creating unique sculptures from found objects. This is related to Kollath’s third qualification for working as a metal artist: an endless supply of raw material.
“Every car repair shop has a lot of old parts lying around, parts that are on the way to a landfill or a recycling center,” Kollath said. “I thought I could do something with some of these parts, and started bringing some of them home with me.”
Kollath didn’t actually start creating art with automotive parts. His initial inspiration came from a shovel with a broken handle. Rather than fix it or discard it, Kollath figured it might be useful for something else. He found a few other cast-off items to make legs, a head, and a beak, and he put it all together to create a duck. It sounds simple, but Kollath gave it a little thought and realized that he could make an infinite variety of ducks by changing the bodies, legs, heads, and so on. It wasn’t long before he was on the prowl, buying old shovels at garage sales and flea markets. When his employer won a contract to overhaul old postal trucks, Kollath realized this would be an excellent new source of old parts, such as body mounts, bumper brackets, springs, and U-bolts, and thoughts of putting all these parts to good use just ran through his head.
Kollath tried his hand at many other species, wild and domestic, common and exotic, large and small, until he developed a good repertoire. He usually applies some paint, but he doesn’t go in for automotive quality. It would take too long and it wouldn’t be the right look anyway; sculptures made from found art usually benefit from an antique, rustic appearance. It’s also part of making individual, one-of-a-kind pieces.
“Each one takes on a uniqueness all its own,” he said.
Kollath’s wife, who loves his creations and encourages his work, registered him in an art show shortly after he got started as a metal sculptor. This is when Kollath realized his hobby’s boundless potential.
“Crazy sells!” he said. “You can make something that looks unusual, then paint a rainbow on it, and you think it won’t sell, but sure enough, it sells,” he said.
He has found that dog sculptures sell well, and for good reason. By some estimates, nearly half of all households have at least one dog. Kollath typically uses a coiled suspension spring for the body. Because they are heavy, they provide a lot of ballast—they tend to stay put, even on windy days. This is especially helpful for a dog in a tripod pose.
While the occasional art show is a great way to sell a lot of art in a short time, Kollath has found that steady inquiries provide the bulk of his sales. Some are repeat customers, whereas others are acquaintances of previous customers.
“Often someone buys a sculpture and they think they know where they’re going to put it, but it turns out that it’s not the right spot,” he said. “They move it to a new location, and then they want something to display in the first spot.”
Other inquiries come from their family and friends.
“People see these items displayed in a garden, on a patio or a deck, in the yard, or indoors, and often the first question is, Where did you get that?” he said. He keeps a photo of every piece he has sculpted, and he’s happy to make a near-duplicate of a previous piece, if that’s what the customer wants.
As long as they don’t ask for a pristine finish or a perfect paint job.
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