Meet the Art-A-Whirl artist: Danny Saathoff
(Editor's note: This weekend is Art-A-Whirl, the yearly art party where hundreds of studios, galleries, and warehouses in northeast Minneapolis open their doors and invite art lovers in for special demonstrations, exhibitions, performances, and sales. This week we'll be taking a look at some of the people and places you may want to check out.)
Minnesota artist Danny Saathoff works with metal and other materials to create a wide variety of works. starting small, his jewelry draws inspiration from nature and mining. Meanwhile, his kinetic sculptures range from wall installations to large-scale pieces that invite viewers to interact with to help create motion.
Your name: Danny Saathoff
Where we can find your this weekend: Northrup King Building, 1500 Jackson St. NE, Suite 432
Years spent in your current space, and working in MN: My current studio is a newly constructed space at my home. I spent all of last fall in construction mode. We broke ground in late July, and we (my wife, Kari Halker-Saathoff, also an artist), moved in in November just before the snow fell. Prior to that, we've always had a studio space in one form or another at our home, but this is a freestanding space away from the house, dedicated to making art.
I've been working in the Twin Cities for 12 years. I grew up here. I spent eight years after college living in the mountains of Colorado, but it was never home. Minnesota feels like home.
Tell us about what you do and why:
Trying to wrap up what I do is hard because it varies from project to project and from different times of the year. I am a metalsmith and jewelry designer/maker. I'm also a visual artist and sculptor. I say it's hard to define because my work as a jewelry maker is typically small in scale because it has to fit within the confines of the body. Compare this to some of the very large sculptures that I've made that could fit on the side of a bus. Then, there's everything in between. My wall mounted sculptures are interactive. I invite the viewer to participate in the work by having them turn cranks or pull handles to make things "happen" in the piece. This need to create work that is interactive comes directly from making jewelry. Jewelry is interactive, so why shouldn't art be?
I've also recently started teaching jewelry making and design as the Dayton/Hudson Visiting Instructor of Metalsmithing at Carleton College.
Name three things that influence your work right now:
My influences come from all over, but I'm very interested in mechanisms and simple physics. Making pieces that move is a challenge, and I love inventing new ways to make that happen.
I take influence from patterns found in nature, like when a force shapes a substance; wind on water, waves on sand, air on clouds. These patterns always find their way into my work. I especially like the concept that some patterns can be predictors of future events, as in clouds. You can often tell what the weather will be by looking at the clouds.
I also take great influence from transportation like airplanes and boats, especially sailboats. The mechanisms and physics of a sailboat are fascinating to me. Humans have been sailing for hundreds of years; it's in our blood. There's something magical about using nothing but nature and physics to travel through water and air. The work I create tries to tap into that sense of wonder.
Name three things that inspired and/or motivated you as a budding creative type:
I moved to Colorado almost immediately after college, and that was an influence. My work began to take a rougher, less polished appearance. I used to explore old mining sites high up on the mountains, and found small bits of mining debris that would work it's way into both jewelry and sculpture.
I learned to sail on a high alpine reservoir, and after eight years living and ski bumming in the mountains, I moved back to the Midwest to sail larger bodies of water. The boat moved to Lake Superior, and I found a new aesthetic that gradually found it's way into my work. I guess you could say that environment has a profound effect on my work.
What was your last big project?
I'm in the middle of a good sized project right now called "Wishing Wheels." It's a project sponsored by Springboard for the Arts. The project is to construct a flexible, movable space on a trailer foundation. The construction uses materials from an old wishing well, and will be a creative space for artists or writers to sit in and work from. The first phase was to build the structure, which is just about complete. In the second phase, I'll be building a kinetic sculpture that will be mounted to the roof overhangs and will provide a frog's eye view looking up from the bottom of a pond. The kinetic elements are lily pad structures that will move and sway with the wind overhead.
This project is inspired by another wind driven, kinetic wall sculpture created for patients at St. Francis Hospital in Shakopee.
What do you have going on now or coming up in the near future that should be on our radar?
I have a show going on right now at Gallery 360 in south Minneapolis. It is a group show of artists who create both jewelry and visual art, so there is a great variety of work to see. My next major show however, is a year away at Kolman Pryor Gallery. It will run over the Art-A-Whirl time period.
I'm also part of a collective of jewelry artists that are forming a guild of metalsmiths and jewelers. The organization is called MNJAG (Minnesota Jewelry Arts Guild). We've been working together collectively for a while, putting on events, pop-up shows, etc. But we're now getting ourselves organized to better position ourselves as an entity to promote our members and educate the public about the local art jewelry scene in this region, which is quite strong.
How has the Minnesota scene changed since you began working here?
I think it's getting stronger and larger every year. Galleries come and go, artists come and go, but overall, the quality of work being produced here is getting better and better and rivals many of the larger, more established scenes around the country. The hard part is convincing modest Midwesterners that it's alright to stray away from the Pottery Barn mentality telling us what to hang on our walls.
What do you consider your career highpoint?
I don't know that I've hit my highpoint yet, but I feel that I'm on a steady upward trend toward better and bigger things. Installation days are always highpoints, whether that's installing work in a gallery for a show or installing a commissioned piece into its final home. Though it's always a little hard saying goodbye to a piece that you've worked so hard on. I always like being able to spend a little bit of time living with a piece before it finds its forever home.
Finally, are you doing anything special for Art-A-Whirl you'd like our readers to know about?
Nothing "special," just being available to meet new people and see new work from old friends and the opportunity to meet new artists and friends.
IF YOU GO:
Various locations in northeast Minneapolis
5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
For more info, visit nemaa.org/art-a-whirl
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.