I met my friend Carol at one of my favorite Tucson places for lunch.
Vegetables! For a change of pace…
Carol is one of my (non-smug) married girlfriends who loves what I do. (See also Jen, PN, Diane, Jess and Bet) Were these girls single, they’d be out wandering the world. Instead they’re immersed in the important business of looking out for their husbands and raising their kids to be good citizens, work both critically overlooked and underappreciated. Because I’m unobligated in that way, I feel like an advance scout sent out to experience foreign lands and come back with stories. When they have the time and wherewithal to travel, they’ll have plenty of ideas of where to go.
After lunch I went to the Sam Hughes neighborhood near the University of Arizona area and tracked down a metal artist I remembered seeing there. Please meet Ned Egen:
His work bench:
And the yard around his house:
Isn’t that a terrible picture?? I had such difficulty photographing his yard.
Between the light and the negative space in his sculpture against a unsolid background of trees, cactus and vines my camera did. not. know. where. to. look. I had much more success in his back yard.
But back to Ned. He walked out of his house right when I drove up and spent about an hour and a half walking me around and talking to me. Delightful.
Ned’s a former chemistry professor at the University of Arizona who also developed, started and ran his own biotech company and made his yard into a metal jungle. He says he fell in love with steel in his 20s when he lived on the east coast. He’d photograph bridges and girders and junk piles, fascinated by the way metal rusted and cured and looked. He started collecting steel pieces and when he moved to Tucson, he moved about 1000lbs of steel with him and started creating a junk pile in his back yard that quickly grew to about 10 tons.
He learned to weld in his 30s so he could make wood burning stoves for his house. He made two stoves and put his welder away but continued to collect steel pieces and take pictures and he says he made his first sculpture when he turned 40.
His wife, Sue, is a fiber artist and loves flowers. Ned says Sue always incorporated flowers into her artwork so it seemed natural that he would make flowers.
They remain his favorite subjects.
He recycles old water heaters and uses the blue enameled inner lining to for these flowers.
He also loves faces
And many of his anthropomorphic sculptures are kinetic with springs that make them bend and spring and boing when you touch them.
I photographed about a quarter of his work and thought to ask him a question that’s been on my mind since seeing so many prolific collectors and artists across this country. Namely, how long did it take him to do all this? He said it took him several years but he was also working 2 full time jobs. He looked around the yard while we talked and said he thought he could recreate the whole thing in a year if he did nothing else.
I was shocked. He was amused. He says he works quickly, he doesn’t stockpile ideas and he usually has about 30 things he’s working on simultaneously. If he gets stuck in one project and can’t figure out how to move forward or finish it, he moves on to another project and finds that it unsticks him. He had a very practical attitude towards work. He loves metal, what it can do and how it looks. He likes to work. He works every day.
He said he’s had a lot of walk up business in the past week and it makes him a bit nervous because he doesn’t want to sell more than he can easily replace. He wants the yard to continue to look like it does now. I think he was intrigued by my questioning, my interest and my itinerant lifestyle and figured I had things on my mind that went deeper than just his artwork and his yard.
But that’s a subject for another post. I think I need to mull it all over a bit more before I write about it.
One more day in Tucson and then I’m headed north and west.
See you tomorrow.