I own two pieces of “found metal” sculpture by the same artist, Bill Heise. He made both objects from a variety of rusted metal parts. One is a more than seven-foot-tall iron man who bears a sword and shield and is called Don Quixote. He stands in the corner of our dining room at home. The other is an ingeniously caped and spikily winged spirit figure, also iron. As a result of overzealous baby-proofing, that one sits outside my office at work.
My brother, who has similar tastes in these matters, has a similarly imposing Don Quixote in his house, and, roosting above his fireplace, a wonderful mechanical iron chicken.
We never would have ended up with these four objects of art if it had not been for a visit we paid to the Heise Metalwork studio in Burlingon, Vermont several summers ago. We had come across knockoff metal cows in Colorado and somehow discovered that Heise was the original. He has been welding art out of iron from the scrap yards and farms of Vermont since 1966.
We drove from Bradford to Burlington to visit his studio. Having grown up in a pottery, we both enjoy seeing serious artists in their place of work. The studio took us quite a while to absorb – it is strewn with hundreds and hundreds of completed pieces, stacked with piles of unassembled materials. One corner had with the welding equipment. Sculpture adorned the walls, stood on shelves, and lined up all over the floor.
My brother and I wandered the shop for quite a long time, inspecting the great variety of objects, comparing opinions, noting what which objects we thought were great, and which we did not care for. Heise was kind enough to engage us in conversation, answering our many questions about his work and life, and explaining how he constructs his sculptures. We became fans.
In time, my brother and I started to focus on a set of sculptures that seemed particularly exceptional and that we felt overshadowed his production pieces. Among them were several large Don Quixotes in the center of the room. We kept coming back to them. There is absolutely no way we would have both acquired something as impractical as large metal men without the experience of being together in the shop, appreciating the work, talking with the artist, coming to respect his dedication, inventiveness and long devotion to his craft, and engaging in a quirky and memorable negotiation about pricing and delivery.
It is great to discover someone who has put their life into getting great at something you can appreciate. We like our Don Quixotes, but somehow we were not done with Heise. A mechanical chicken that we noted on that visit stayed in my brother’s head, and propelled us to Burlington the following summer. Which is when I got my second awesome sculpture. Note it if you visit my place of work.