Sculptures – David Smith

David Smith made three sculptures in the ‘Wagon’ series in 1964 at his studio at Bolton Landing, in New York State. Wagon II is made of forged steel and is among the heaviest sculptures that he made. The elements are so large that they had to be cast at a commercial foundry, the American Forge in McKee’s Rock, Pennsylvania. Stanley E. Marcus explained the process, writing of Wagon II:

Smith obtained its wheels (and those of Wagon I) from Bethlehem Steel … asking for wheels of unusual size and weight. Three of Wagon II‘s wheels, each weighing 275 pounds, had been originally intended to bear the weight of a hundred-ton trolley car. It is the gigantic fourth wheel; however, that draws the viewer’s attention: it was made from five separate steel plates welded together and bored at the axle. Sketches for the tongues and yokes of the wagons were sent to American Forge. By April 1964 some 3,800 pounds of forged mild steel had been shipped to Bolton Landing.

Despite the use of the commercial foundry, Smith specified a blacksmith finish. ‘Wagon II’s spine’, Marcus continues, ‘was to be roughly fashioned. (Smith had instructed American Forge to give all the forgings a “rough and raw” finish … He wanted the tongue assembly of Wagon II to have an “old-style blacksmith look.”)’ This extended to the reuse of available elements which, beside the wheels, included the central vertical form which was ‘a rejected railroad coupling from Bethlehem Steel’.

The sculpture was then allowed to rust for a season, before being scraped with a wire brush and coated with Masury oil to protect it. Smith wrote notes in his sketchbook about this dark reddish colour: ‘the red of rust has a higher value for me than antiquity relationship … It is the red of the east’s mythical west – It is the blood of man, it was one culture symbol of life’ (quoted in Marcus, p.158). The wheels incorporated into the sculpture serve both functional and symbolic purposes. According to Smith: ‘Circles have long been a preoccupation … Wheels are circles with mobility, from the first wheel of man, to wheels on Indian stone temples … to all the suns and poetic imagery of movement to the practical fact that my sculpture is getting too big to move without built-in rolling’ . The wheels ensure that Wagon II also evokes other ideas of movement ranging from a giant child’s pull-toy or go-cart to a farmer or a pioneer on a wagon train.

The vertical element in Wagon II reads as a human figure and may relate to the similarly structured sculptures made by the ancient Etruscans. It embodies an identity with the landscape within which Smith worked and placed his sculptures at Bolton Landing. Certainly agricultural themes and the use of discarded agricultural implements, run through Smith’s sculptures.

Wagon II dates from 1964.

Smith’s career that was cut short by his death following a road accident in the following year.

ABOUT DAVID SMITH:

David Smith 1906-1965

American sculptor and painter, born in Decatur, Indiana. Studied art briefly at Ohio University 1924-5, then worked on the assembly line in the Studebaker factory. Moved to New York in 1926. Studied on and off at the Art Students League 1926-31. Painted in an abstractSurrealist style. Met John Graham, Stuart Davis, Gorky, de Kooning. Began in 1931-2 to attach wood and other materials to his paintings, and in 1933 to make sculptures in forged iron or steel, inspired by Picasso and Gonzalez. Decided in 1935 to devote himself primarily to sculpture. Visited Europe, including Paris, 1935-6, and then was employed on the WPA Federal Art Project. First one-man exhibition at the East River Gallery, New York, 1938. During the war, worked 1942-4 as welder of tanks and locomotives. Lived from 1944 at Bolton Landing, New York, where he had spent part of his time since 1929. Made open linear sculptures of birds of prey and totem figures, often incorporating found objects, followed from the early 1950s by the use of larger and simpler forms and works in series (‘Cubi’, ‘Zig’, etc.). Associated with the Abstract Expressionist painters. Died after a lorry accident near Bennington, Vermont.

 

 

 

David Smith made three sculptures in the ‘Wagon’ series in 1964 at his studio at Bolton Landing, in New York State. Wagon II is made of forged steel and is among the heaviest sculptures that he made. The elements are so large that they had to be cast at a commercial foundry, the American Forge in McKee’s Rock, Pennsylvania. Stanley E. Marcus explained the process, writing of Wagon II:

Smith obtained its wheels (and those of Wagon I) from Bethlehem Steel … asking for wheels of unusual size and weight. Three of Wagon II‘s wheels, each weighing 275 pounds, had been originally intended to bear the weight of a hundred-ton trolley car. It is the gigantic fourth wheel; however, that draws the viewer’s attention: it was made from five separate steel plates welded together and bored at the axle. Sketches for the tongues and yokes of the wagons were sent to American Forge. By April 1964 some 3,800 pounds of forged mild steel had been shipped to Bolton Landing.

Despite the use of the commercial foundry, Smith specified a blacksmith finish. ‘Wagon II’s spine’, Marcus continues, ‘was to be roughly fashioned. (Smith had instructed American Forge to give all the forgings a “rough and raw” finish … He wanted the tongue assembly of Wagon II to have an “old-style blacksmith look.”)’ This extended to the reuse of available elements which, beside the wheels, included the central vertical form which was ‘a rejected railroad coupling from Bethlehem Steel’.

The sculpture was then allowed to rust for a season, before being scraped with a wire brush and coated with Masury oil to protect it. Smith wrote notes in his sketchbook about this dark reddish colour: ‘the red of rust has a higher value for me than antiquity relationship … It is the red of the east’s mythical west – It is the blood of man, it was one culture symbol of life’ (quoted in Marcus, p.158). The wheels incorporated into the sculpture serve both functional and symbolic purposes. According to Smith: ‘Circles have long been a preoccupation … Wheels are circles with mobility, from the first wheel of man, to wheels on Indian stone temples … to all the suns and poetic imagery of movement to the practical fact that my sculpture is getting too big to move without built-in rolling’ . The wheels ensure that Wagon II also evokes other ideas of movement ranging from a giant child’s pull-toy or go-cart to a farmer or a pioneer on a wagon train.

The vertical element in Wagon II reads as a human figure and may relate to the similarly structured sculptures made by the ancient Etruscans. It embodies an identity with the landscape within which Smith worked and placed his sculptures at Bolton Landing. Certainly agricultural themes and the use of discarded agricultural implements, run through Smith’s sculptures.

Wagon II dates from 1964.

Smith’s career that was cut short by his death following a road accident in the following year.

ABOUT DAVID SMITH:

David Smith 1906-1965

American sculptor and painter, born in Decatur, Indiana. Studied art briefly at Ohio University 1924-5, then worked on the assembly line in the Studebaker factory. Moved to New York in 1926. Studied on and off at the Art Students League 1926-31. Painted in an abstractSurrealist style. Met John Graham, Stuart Davis, Gorky, de Kooning. Began in 1931-2 to attach wood and other materials to his paintings, and in 1933 to make sculptures in forged iron or steel, inspired by Picasso and Gonzalez. Decided in 1935 to devote himself primarily to sculpture. Visited Europe, including Paris, 1935-6, and then was employed on the WPA Federal Art Project. First one-man exhibition at the East River Gallery, New York, 1938. During the war, worked 1942-4 as welder of tanks and locomotives. Lived from 1944 at Bolton Landing, New York, where he had spent part of his time since 1929. Made open linear sculptures of birds of prey and totem figures, often incorporating found objects, followed from the early 1950s by the use of larger and simpler forms and works in series (‘Cubi’, ‘Zig’, etc.). Associated with the Abstract Expressionist painters. Died after a lorry accident near Bennington, Vermont.

 

Wagon II 1964 by David Smith 1906-1965

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