Jeffrey Zachmann

When I was about eight years old, there was a housing development being built near the Minneapolis suburb I grew up in. For some reason, they dug all the basements and left the huge piles of dirt for a long time. My friends and I would spend hours at the development building trails and tunnels for marbles to run down. After they finally hauled all the dirt away, I would occasionally experiment with other materials to make my marble runs: a hose, pieces of wood, a model train track.

Much later, when I was in college at Minnesota State University- Moorhead, my ceramics instructor gave my class an assignment to make something non-functional out of clay. I remembered my childhood playing with marbles in the development and made a sculpture with tracks and tunnels much like I had in that first pile of dirt.

I spent the next fifteen years as a potter making mainly functional ceramics and selling them around the country at art shows. Occasionally I would work on another piece with balls rolling through it. It was always only marginally successful at best. Clay shrinks, warps, and can crack as it dries. The ball doesn’t roll the same way on wet clay as it does on the finished piece. I would end up making numerous pieces and having to throw them out because they didn’t work right.

Then, one day, it just dawned on me: “Just because I’m a potter doesn’t mean I have to work in clay!” It sounds pretty simple now, but that idea ended up changing my life.

I knew how to weld, having built most of my own pottery equipment, so I started building sculptures with the metal and materials I had lying around. After a few years of making a sculpture every now and then, I had a number of them sitting around the house. My wife, Deb, convinced me I should take them to some art shows (she was probably looking down the road and imagining what our house would be like if I kept making them and not selling them). I was very hesitant about showing the sculptures, however. I had never seen anything else like them. I thought they were just my thing and that no one else would be interested in my moving sculptures.

Six months after doing the first show with my kinetic sculptures, I no longer had time to do pottery. Since then, the demand for my work has only grown.

The reactions of viewers and the crowds drawn to my work still amazes me. I live an artist’s dream.