Growing up on a farm in Hudson Valley, New York, State University of New York Professor Fred Sachs learned how to milk cows and raise chickens.
He also had an interest in welding.
Whilst on the farm, he watched his friends fix their broken tractors using welding techniques. “I thought it was pretty cool, and I wanted to learn how to do it,” Sachs says. “My dad appreciated the implements I made with a friend’s torch. “A friend of mine had a business cutting road signs there in Putnam County,” he says. “He also did tractor repair. Both of those business involved welding, so I got him to teach me how to do it. And that was where it ended for a long time.”
And that ‘long time’ was forty years!
Sachs gained his BA and PhD and began a career specialising in mechanical and electrical biophysics and has been wildly successful in his choice of field.
However, his interest in welding has remained.
“But it has changed,” Sachs says. “I knew that welding is like instant glue for steel, and tempts one to make sturdy fanciful objects. Larry Griffis’ sculpture park showed me what steel sculpture can be.
“Mark Griffis, Larry’s son, served as my teacher into how welded sculptures are created. I won two free lessons in steel sculpture at the Griffis family’s Essex Arts Center on Buffalo’s West Side. There, I learned about the bending, cutting and grinding, and welding, and some of the backache.”
The concept of welded steel sculpture as an art form is generally credited to the artistic collaboration between Spanish sculptor Julio Gonzalez and Pablo Picasso in the early 1930s. While its history is relatively short, welded steel sculpture has become established as a sculptural genre, and over the years many variations of welding have been adapted and perfected by artists for their needs.
For Sachs, steel sculpture represents a totally different mindset from doing research in his lab.
“I have been creating sculptures for about 10 years, and with steel, there is such a sense of permanence. There is the sense of touch and feel to the surfaces. Steel carries stability,” he says.
“But a lot of humor and lightness, a human side, can also be found in steel sculpture and I often go that route in what I do.
“It is possible to represent emotions, such as happiness, sadness, amusement and even something a bit more complex, such as disappointment. It doesn’t take much steel to do it, but it does take imagination and a bit of patience, which I enjoy.”
Sachs doesn’t sell his work, but he has given away a few pieces to friends.
“I have never sold anything I have created. Of course, I have never tried to, either,” he says.
“Right now it is just a very satisfying game. The return is so immediate compared to writing grants. That, really, is my reward, especially when the piece turns out the way I wanted it to.
“When you can walk away, and come back and look at it and like what you’ve done, that is all the applause I need.”