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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: September 13, 2016

Sculptor Jay Sawyer brings the ABCs to UMF

Written by: Bob Keyes
Jay Sawyer with "Cheery O." Photo by Bob Keyes/Staff Writer

Jay Sawyer with “Cheery O.”
Photo by Bob Keyes/Staff Writer

Jayne Decker toyed with the idea of giving Maine sculptor Jay Sawyer a solo exhibition ever since she included his art in a group show two years ago. But the director of the Emery Community Arts Center at the University of Maine at Farmington needed to see more of his art before making a commitment, so she arranged to visit his studio and sculpture park at his home in Warren.

Outside the gallery, Jay Sawyer and Emery Community Arts Center Director Jayne Decker discuss Sawyer's art. In the foreground is a version of Sawyer's sculpture "F-Bomb." Photo by Bob Keyes/Staff Writer

Outside the gallery, Jay Sawyer and Emery Community Arts Center Director Jayne Decker discuss Sawyer’s art. In the foreground is a version of Sawyer’s sculpture “F-Bomb.”
Photo by Bob Keyes/Staff Writer

Sawyer’s sculpture park is a mystical spot where dozens of large, welded pieces made from scrap metal blend among the trees and a pond. On seeing the forest of sculpture, Decker didn’t take long to commit to a show.

“I remember feeling stunned by what I saw there,” Decker said. “I remember getting out of the car, and Jay was walking toward me and I said, ‘You have yourself a solo show.’ ”

“Sculpture Soup” is on view at the Emery Community Arts Center in Farmington through Nov. 3. Sawyer has exhibited his work around Maine, and his sculptures are on public view in Portland, Rockland and elsewhere. This is his first solo museum show.

It includes pieces in Sawyer’s latest series of whimsical sculptures inspired by letters in the alphabet. The pieces are made nearly exclusively with scrap iron, steel, tin, rebar and other metals fashioned into letters. Sawyer names each piece based on the material he uses or the image each letter projects. The names are often funny and cute puns – and sometimes crude. “Iron E” is the letter “e” made from an imposing piece of iron. “C Saw” is a metal saw blade, shaped like the letter “C.” He made “Screw U” with a bunch of screws welded together and shaped like a “U.”

“Sculpture Soup” includes two large-scale pieces that are sited outdoors at the Emery Center.

Sawyer, a welder by trade and Maine Maritime Academy graduate, calls his material “rusted gold.” In all of his work, he’s admired the practical nature of cast-off material. As an artist, he enjoys salvaging it to give it new life by heating, hammering, reshaping and welding it.

He appreciates the structural longevity of his material, as well as its organic nature. But mostly, he admires its beauty.

“I find beauty in other dimensions of my universe beyond aesthetics,” Sawyer said. “I find beauty in a product that has form and function. I also find beauty in simplicity and efficiency. Quite possibly, as it concerns my body of work and where I find inspiration, it may simply be summed up as ‘beauty in the unexpected.'”

An installation view of "Sculpture Soup." Photo by Bob Keyes/Staff Writer

An installation view of “Sculpture Soup.”
Photo by Bob Keyes/Staff Writer

In “Sculpture Soup,” he sees beauty in the texture, patina, color and form of the material he uses and adds elements of humor and intellect.

He likes making people laugh.

The alphabet series started very close to home, with “Iron E.” He salvaged the iron from a woolen mill on the St. George River, near Sawyer’s home in Warren. The iron was part of the mill’s penstock, and Sawyer has used it in several pieces over the years. He was drawn to the texture of the material, its penetrations, wrinkles and rolls.

“Iron E” became the first letter in his “Sculpture Soup” series.

For Sawyer, the UMF exhibition represents a bookend of his first decade as an artist. He began making art in 2007, transitioning from his work as a tradesman to that of an artist. “I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a decade now, so I guess that means I’m an artist. I don’t feel like I am chasing it anymore. The chase is over.”

“Sculpture Soup” by Jay Sawyer

WHERE: Emery Community Arts Center, University of Maine-Farmington, 11 South St., Farmington
WHEN: On view through Nov. 3; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; the arts center will be closed for fall break Oct. 10-11
INFO: 778-7000 or or

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