Interview by Daniel Mariotti
Photographs by Daniel Mariotti and Matt Weber
I met up with Matt at his home/studio in Mesa, a cold day for most Arizonans at 78 degrees Fahrenheit (long sleeves a must). Luckily he had his furnace running making the cold bearable as we sat down to talk. The thing about his studio is that you can sense its history. Everything has been tinkered and modified and you can just imagine how many things were made on the anvil in the middle of the space, not just by him but by everyone before.
BA: So, why metal? I guess is the simple question.
Matt: It started in junior high metal shop and woodshop. We went from oxy-acetylene to stick welding and then we got a MIG welder. And then my buddy and I started making weight benches for the football team. Because back then, you know it was all the Joe Wielder and Schwarzenegger, and all the kids were trying to pump up. The instructor knew what we were doing and he kind of turned the other way. In high school, they didn’t have any metal shop classes and I kind of forgot about it. And the timeline is kind of fuzzy and all, but ultimately, I had like a 10-year corporate gig in supply chain distribution and warehousing and I was making good money, got married, got home and I wanted to make things for it. I bought a welder and all those memories of welding and all that stuff started coming back and it came back hard. Then I started buying these custom ironworking books that had gorgeous and intricate stuff and I just want to learn how to make those things. So, I just went on this little journey of making stuff and bought a little anvil which eventually led to building a little forge and it just slowly started progressing from there. The more I did it, the more I want to do it. Next thing you know people start buying my work, I started getting noticed, and I started getting published. And I got published with some of the same artists that I was inspired by and came to know and became friends with.
BA: Were you doing this while you were working or was this the only thing you were doing? And how did you end up working at Bollinger?
Matt: I just started running this parallel. I was working, you know, 40 to 50 hours a week at a corporate gig in my late 20s. I’d then come home and then all I wanted to do was get into my studio and go back to work. And at one point, I was making such good money that I just quit my corporate job. And then I had a great run with architectural blacksmithing till the economy crashed in 08’. After that, I built Sleepy Dog Brewery with my friend Rob which we sold that 2017. I had gotten an email from a friend who was working at Bollinger that said they had an opening in patina, apply. And that was good because it was pretty stressful running the brewery; the anxiety, keeping the lights on, the romance ends when the doors open, you know, and things get real. And the thought of getting a steady paycheck for a while was intriguing. They asked me to promise a year and that was like four and a half years ago.
BA: I know a lot of people have a hard time getting their mind into that 3D space and that seems like early on it kind of clicked for you? There’s kind of an engineering brain happening.
Matt: Yeah, that’s perceptive dude. My grandfather was an engineer and a craftsman. And from very early on, as a kid, “Hey, grandpa, this toy is broken.” And he’d say “Did you take it apart yet? No? Well, figure it out. There’s screwdrivers over there”. I learned to work with my hands right here in this house with my grandpa you know, it’s special. And he came from that Iowa farm boy mentality, twelve brothers and sisters during the Great Depression. They didn’t go to Ace Hardware. They fixed things themselves and if they didn’t fix it, they built something else to do its job. That’s probably why I love Bollinger so much because that is so much of what we do.
BA: With that comes a lot of frustrating moments. And in those moments, are you thinking, this is fun because it’s gonna allow me to figure it out, or something else?
Matt: The first part. Sometimes you just start, knowing this part has to get done and then that part next, and so on. And you kind of figure it out as you go and yeah, sometimes it doesn’t work and you have to take a couple of steps back and cut things apart or, you know, replace things to get there. But what ends up happening is you start relying on your previous skill sets and knowledge to get things done, and you learn to trust yourself.
BA: So what about patina makes you like it?
Matt: I always loved the process. It’s that final finish that the clients are going to see, you know, on top of, of the art that you’ve already created and it’s the “the piece is done” feeling.
BA: I think someone put it really well that the patina is essentially the frame of the piece, do you agree? Do you have a favorite patina?
Matt: Yeah that’s totally it. I have two, and one of them is our jet black patina. I just love it. Like the Feurman Divers. And I really like silver nitrate. It’s an interesting chemical. It’s one of the true hazardous chemicals that we have. You don’t want to breathe it in and you don’t want it on your skin. As a matter of fact, it turns your skin black and doesn’t come off. You have to wear it off.
BA: So how do you feel about all the high polished work coming through nowadays?
Matt: Yeah… I think when you do anything in repetition, it becomes a bit of a job, you know. Aesthetically I guess if you’re not in our world, and you’re walking down the street and see this big coiled shiny thing, you’re gonna be interested and intrigued. Scale adds a lot too. I think even the layman would look at something like that and understand that there was a lot of work that went into it.
BA: A lot of the tools we use are either made or adjusted to make them functional for our specific use, is there something you’ve adapted recently that makes your life easier?
Matt: Having to cob up jigs to hold things in certain places is the bulk of the quick builds. I mean, if you walk through the metal shop, there’s a lot of weird shit laying around. It may look like garbage, but no, we use that stuff. We modify a lot of burrs and chisels. Our job is to make that sculpture look like it was cast in one piece, not dozens, and some textures are much harder to recreate than others. Much of the blacksmithing experience that I have is just the basics of tool making and lends itself well to working at Bollinger.
BA: Final closing thoughts?
Matt: Whether it’s art, or hobby, or craft, it doesn’t matter; I think it’s important, as human beings, to work with your hands. These things are satisfying to your soul.
LINKS to Matt’s work: