Make Space For This Napa Artist’s Monumental Metal Sculptures

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Artist Adam Wiedmann stands in front of the tools of his trade.

Artist Adam Wiedmann is a self-described thrill seeker. From youth, he’s been racing mountain bikes, motorcycles and sailboats. These days, the sculptor gets the same kicks by wielding a hammer or operating the plasma cutter needed to make his monumental metal sculptures. “The creation process is fiery, loud and filled with brute force,” Weidmann explains. “In the end, you arrive at something balanced and elegant–but I crave the fire of creating.”

Wiedmann prefers crafting sculptures that are 6 feet or taller.

Wiedmann prefers crafting sculptures that are 6 feet or taller.

The artist sometimes brainstorms the pieces on paper; other times, he draws patterns directly on the steel with a Sharpie.

The artist sometimes brainstorms the pieces on paper; other times, he draws patterns directly on the steel with a Sharpie.

He uses heat and a wire brush to achieve the different patinas seen here.

He uses heat and a wire brush to achieve the different patinas seen here.

Wiedmann's dog, Otto, poses in the studio with a 1965 motorcycle.

Wiedmann's dog, Otto, poses in the studio with a 1965 motorcycle.

His creative fire was fanned at Lewis & Clark college in Portland, Oregon. “Art wasn’t my primary interest, but there they require students to study some form of it. A friend recommended Bruce West’s sculpture class, and I loved it,” says Wiedmann. “When Professor West was hiring studio assistants, I wanted the job so much I pretended I knew how to weld. I couldn’t even turn the machine on!” Following the aphorism advising “fake it ’til you make it,” Wiedmann quickly developed metalworking proficiency. A few years later, a studio visitor noticed his personal work, and inquired about the cost. “I threw out a number that, at the time, equaled a month’s salary,” the artist says. When the price was accepted, a professional sculptor was born.

After stops in New York City, Portland, Maine and Los Angeles, Wiedmann landed in Napa Valley. He then set up shop in a St. Helena warehouse, and the creative fires burned again–only larger. “I never sold anything big in New York, where people only have room for tabletop sculpture,” Wiedmann says. “My preferred size is very large–6 feet and over. Here in Northern California, there’s a taste for the monumental, and people have the space and resources for it.”

The mammoth metal pieces are occasionally born on paper, sometimes in Wiedmann’s mind. “Half of the time, I draw it out on paper–usually when I’m working on a commissioned piece,” he notes. “Other times I draw the patterns directly on the steel–and that’s when a Sharpie is my best friend.”

Once the pattern is established, the “brute force” is employed. Wiedmann uses a plasma cutter–a device that shoots a thin line of red-hot fluid–to cut out the metal pieces. Next, the cold-forming process begins with the help of studio assistants. “We don’t heat the metal when we shape it,” the artist says. “Instead, we place it on blocks and jump on it or use clamps and hydraulic rollers to make a curve. Once in a while, a forklift is used to bend the metal into place.”

The pieces are secured together with a welding torch before, as Wiedmann calls it, the grunt work starts. “The grinding and finishing is just awful. It’s done by hand and it’s very loud and very repetitive–but it’s the reason my forearms look good,” he jokes.

Wiedmann has earned acclaim along with strong muscles–his abstract work can be found on the new Hewlett Packard campus in Palo Alto, in numerous public parks and in museum collections. Being an artist has also built his character. “This work isn’t easy, and it’s is not for the faint of heart,” he says. “There are years when the income is amazing, others where it is sporadic. But, as I tell my kids, you have to keep enduring, keep wanting it, keep going forward.” In other words, it’s just another act of brute force.

PHOTOS: AIRYKA ROCKEFELLER