Artistic talent with an industrial bent runs in the Schmidt family. Jerry Schmidt, owner of Waterloo 7 Studio/Gallery, grew up in Mentor, Ohio, as the son of Fred Schmidt, who worked for the New York Central Railroad and was a found object and steel sculptor in the 1950s and 60s. Schmidt worked as an iron worker for Local 17. When his dad was still around, Jerry didn’t build; he simply helped build his father’s works of art. While Jerry’s work has been compared to his father’s, he thinks his is different from the elder Schmidt’s, whose art was more abstract. His father would not have made detailed or literal pieces, such as chairs and mailboxes, or used glass panels or kinetics (moving pieces). In spite of that, he says, “There’s a force that brings me right back to it” due to his father’s influence and style, the way you can tell what school a painter came from because his work is influenced by the master with whom he studied.
Schmidt moved to Collinwood in 1980 and bought his studio space in 2002. In 2001, when his father passed, he took up the [welding] torch and came into his own as a metal sculptor, working with rolled sheet steel, steel mill slag, and industrial scrap and surplus. He semiretired six years ago to work full time on his art. Now, his son Tyler, a third-year apprentice iron worker with Local 17, and his seven-year-old grandson are metal artists. All four generations’ work are represented in the studio where Roxy the guard dog sings hound-dog songs to a steady stream of friends and guests who visit.
Currently, he is working on two pieces for his most recent commission to be installed in 2016 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on Lakeside Avenue: a 17-foot by 16-foot stainless steel and stained glass wall hanging on the third floor that will be visible when guests look up from the mall and an 8’6”, curved, entwined, abstract, stainless steel sculpture on a pedestal for the lobby. When pitching a commission, he builds a “marquette,” or scale model. To make the actual installation piece, he rolls the metal, plasma cuts it, welds and grinds it, rubs the surface with boiled linseed oil then uses a pumpkinhead torch to heat it and burn patterns into the metal. “Each form is an element, but the finish is the hard part,” he says.
In addition to sculpting, Jerry teaches welding-art classes from his studio to urban children through the Positive Education Program and to adults and seniors through the Euclid Adult Activity Center. Schmidt shops at HGR Industrial Surplus for gears and bearings when he is working with a moving sculpture. He also purchased from HGR the fan that cools the studio in summer, the stoplight hanging from the front of his building and the breaker boxes for the light-switch sculpture near the sidewalk. Schmidt loves things that move, including welders, grinders and sculptures. He illustrates this with sound effects, including “woo, pwah, plop, da da da, splot, kachunk.” The colors, shapes and sounds are like something out of a Superman comic book. He says, “You need to taste and smell color even though you can see it.”
When asked which piece he is most proud and believes launched and defined his artistic career, he says it is the piece installed in 2005 in the Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve University. Schmidt is passionate about his sculptures not only being abstract, but also being imperfect. He says, “There is no such thing in the world as a straight line. Somewhere, there’s a kink in that line.” And, he believes in balance. He had 12 pieces at Ingenuity Festival this month that withstood the wind and didn’t fall over as so many other sculptures there did. “I was a happy camper,” he says. And, he is. Stop by to meet Schmidt and see, hear and taste his work. You will walk away happy, too.