About the Artist

J.P. Pendergrass Studios

 

About the Artist*

 (Subject to change without notice!)
First off, you won't find a list of degrees or shows or galleries here.  It is true that I actually made a living as an artist for some years, but well over 20 years ago I found it necessary to "get a real job", (more on that later).  Anyway, since I have been more or less inactive for so long, I guess if I am going to succeed now it will have to be because my work speaks for itself.  But, what I would like to do is to give recognition to some people.  Some gave me good advice.  Some gave me "hands-on" help.  Some encouraged me to "go for broke", and some made me go broke.  In the process, maybe I can tell a little about myself.
Of course, I have to thank my parents for many things, but one thing in particular is that they chose to live in Billings, Montana.  Billings (and really, the whole state of Montana) is a unique place in many ways.  People there have sort of an independent streak, and I think that has something to do with the fact that there is an unusual number of artists, artisans and craftsmen there.  Art is everywhere - it is very common for businesses, schools and churches to have large-scale steel sculptures made by local artists outside their buildings.  I also made a lot of friends there.  This would be a good spot to say "Thanks!" to all of them.  I still have so many friends back in Montana that I could never list them.  A surprising number of them are artists in their own right - painters, sculptors, musicians, ceramicists, poets, songwriters and so on.  Their constructive input was (and is) genuinely appreciated.  If a man's worth is counted by the friends he has, I am a very rich guy!  (I wish the bank would see it that way!)  So I'm grateful that I grew up in a place like that and also that my parents didn't discourage me too seriously from pursuing art.
One of my earliest memories is lying on my back and drawing on the underneath side of a coffee table, kind of like Michelangelo!  Except that all I was trying to do was to draw a perfect circle with a red crayon - an effort that was not met with much success.  (It was also not met with much enthusiasm on the part of the owners of said table.)  Shortly after this, when I was about five years old, I won third prize in a coloring contest sponsored by the children's show on the local TV station.  Part of the prize was being on live TV with Happy Herb himself!  Now, in my defense, I have to say that no one briefed me on what my role was to be, let alone gave me a script.  I'm pretty sure that if I had known that they were going to ask me my name, I would have tried to memorize it.  As it was, they caught me by surprise and I not only forgot my name, I forgot how to speak at all.  I was not happy with Happy Herb.  But as you can see, my love of art had already made me a live TV celebrity before I was even in Kindergarten.
Coming forward several years, I have to mention my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. McDonough.  She was exactly what every Elementary School Teacher should aspire to be.  All it took was a single, sincere compliment from her to make me think of becoming an artist.
In High School, two things happened.  First, I started working part-time for my Dad.  This was great for me because he had a really cool shop.  I got quite a bit of experience working with electronics there, which helped me a LOT in later years.  More to the point, though, is that his shop had an Arc Welder, an Oxy-Acetylene Torch, a Machine Lathe, Drill Press and a bunch of other tools.  Not only was I learning some good skills, he even paid me!
The second thing was that I was able to take a real class in art, and that class was taught by Mr. Leo Olson.  This was fortuitous because Mr. Olson was a Metal Sculptor.  Some of the big steel sculptures around town were his.  At that time I believe he did almost all of his work with the torch.  He ended up showing me some torch-welding techniques and suggested some tools that would be helpful.  For several years I used the torch almost exclusively in my projects.  Of course, all of this was besides the instruction I got from the class itself.  He probably doesn't realize how influential he was.  Another thing about his class was that his friend, Lyndon Pomeroy dropped by a couple times.  Mr. Pomeroy was the biggest name in Metal Sculpture in the state.  It was in Mr. Olson's class that I made my first piece of metal art.
I kept on making sculptures through graduation and beyond.  Most pieces I either made for myself or as gifts for friends.  But at one point a local waterbed store (I think it was called "The Plush Pillow"!) started showing some of my work and people were actually willing to pay money for it!  In those days, I almost never took any pictures of my stuff.  I also didn't keep track of who bought what or where they took it.  I do remember, though, that one of the pieces that sold in the waterbed store went to Belgium.  I'm pretty sure that Belgium is not part of the United States, which means I had gone international!  The fact that an Internationally-Renowned Celebrity-Artist like me was still living in his parents' basement was an injustice to say the least!  One guy at that waterbed store was real supportive.  His name was Bob Martin and he had been a real-life beatnik (before the hippies!)  He was also a poet - I think he used the pen name Manning-Martin.  I just found an old picture of him standing by one of my pieces - maybe the one in Belgium!
 
About this time I got some encouragement from a friend of my Dad's.  His name was Pat Coleman and he was a genuinely decent man.  Mr. Coleman bought a sculpture of a fish and paid me exactly the amount I needed to buy my first car.  My Dad handled this transaction.  When Dad handed me the cash from Mr. Coleman, I remember thinking that some of the cash might have actually come from Dad - he was like that.  I also seem to remember Dad walking away muttering some nonsense about "cheaper than eyepatches".  I never did figure out what that was about.
As I was doing this website I came across an old Polaroid of that fish and it jogged a few memories loose.  It was an angel fish, and it was supposed to be about 12" high - something you could put on an end table.  It turns out that I still had a thing or two to learn.  I started on the fish's body first.  Unfortunately, as I would finish one side, the other side wouldn't look right.  So I added more steel to balance it out.  But then the first side wouldn't look right.  This continued on until the fish's body was bigger than the whole piece was supposed to be.  But I was undeterred!  Of course the fins on an angel fish are considerably larger than the body, so by the time they were added this thing wasn't going to fit on anybody's end table.  Maybe a pool table - if you knocked a hole in the ceiling.
The only place big enough to display it was my Dad's office.  I put it on an industrial trolley that I reinforced for the job.  That way it stood at eye-level for best effect.  It was easy to notice, too, because it took up two-thirds of the room, mostly because of the fins.  If you are familiar with angel fish you know that their fins trail off into long, thin strands.  In this case, though, they were long, thin, sharp strands made of steel.  Dad jokingly called them daggers.  People really seemed to like the Angel Fish.  When an unsuspecting customer would walk into Dad's office they would invariably say things like, "Whoa! - That thing's a real eye-popper!"  My Dad would reply, "Sorry about that.  Let me give you something for that eye."  Anyway, Mr. Coleman bought the Angel Fish and he also bought my first "commissioned" piece - a bison.  He helped other artists out, too.  He was truly a nice guy.
The next person I have to mention is Mr. Norm DeField.  He owned a restaurant in town, but I've given the details on that in my description of the "Dragon of the Clouds".
Now we've gotten to the early 80's and things start to get a little gritty.  I was beginning to think I could actually make a living off my art, but I wasn't there yet.  Then along came Mr. George Frank.  Mr. Frank was a real entrepreneur as they say in France.  In Montana, we weren't real sure how to say "entrepreneur" so we just called him a "real go-getter".  He had started up a national franchise of Billiards Halls (some named Corner Pockets and some named Doc & Eddy's).  He had hired Mr. Pomeroy to do a twelve-foot-tall statue of a man shooting pool for one of his places in Billings.  Then one day he came to me and asked if I would like to do one for him!  Once I found out that Mr. Pomeroy was not interested in doing any more, I jumped at the chance.  Some of the details of this new business relationship are spelled out in the "Pool Player" Description page.  Anyway, I got a lot of experience making those "Pool Players"!  (As they say, "To make good decisions you need good judgment.  To have good judgment you need experience.  Well, you get experience from making bad decisions.)
I made a number of those Pool Players, shipping them all over the country. I was finally making some decent money.  During that time I got a boost from another friend, Roger Clawson.  Roger was a writer for the Billings Gazette. For some time he had been begging and pleading for my permission to do an article on me and my sculpture.  I finally relented.  I thought it might help his career.  (He doesn't seem to remember it that way.  He even babbles on about a  $50.00 bribe I supposedly paid him.  These writers and their imaginations!)
Anyway, he did the article!  Imagine!  I was a Single, Eligible Artist with International Acclaim, Live TV Experience, a Red Convertible Sports Car (as seen in one of the pictures of the Pool Player), my own Log Cabin (not living in the basement anymore),  and my Picture on the Front Page of the Biggest Newspaper in a Million Square Miles!
Front Page of "Enjoy" section.  The good-looking guy isn't me. 
 Wow!  OK, you know about the international acclaim thing - someone took one of my early pieces to Belgium.  All right already, the log cabin was a little house made of railroad ties stuffed with horsehair.  OK, my picture wasn't really on the "Front Page" front page.  It was on the front page of the "Enjoy" section.  OK, so two other celebrities had their picture on that page and you had to use a magnifying glass to see my face - which was covered with welding goggles.
Here I am pretending to use a torch on a finished statue. 
  But the article was great!  Except for that one dumb line, "Western art is his food; modern art is his soul."  (I should have gotten my $50.00 back for that.)
That's my face under the robot's armpit. 
Well, this was real exciting, although there was some concern that about 90% of my income came from the Corner Pockets job.
Then Corner Pockets went bankrupt.
I had to change gears fast.  Sure, I could live for a long time in the mountains in my wall tent.  However, this was not a real popular idea with my brand new wife.  (She said living in a house with horsehair stuck in the cracks of the walls and snow blowing in through the windows was about as rustic as she could handle.)  It was at this point that I got into the sign business, eventually moving to the Orlando, Florida area (where we have yet to see any snow coming in the windows).  I've been in the sign business for well over twenty years now.  At least I've been able to do some creative things this way.  (If you want to check out some of that work, here's the address:    www.letra-tek.com   I recommend going to the "Kinds of Signs We Make" page, then the "Unique and Special Work" page.)  
During those twenty-plus years, I always thought about getting back to the sculpture.  A few years after moving here, I even took some of my older stuff that I had kept for myself to a nice studio.  They liked the work enough that they set me up in a show with two or three other artists.  It was a successful show, too!  A couple pieces sold that week and the gallery really thought there was a good market for me with larger-scale Garden Sculptures.
Then the gallery went bankrupt!
  But now the hour has come!  I must rise from the ashes and all that bull.  One thing I've noticed is that my style and technique have matured even without having been too involved in sculpture.  I'm not exactly sure how that happened, but at least the pieces I'm making now are really pleasing to me.  I'm especially fired up about the "Man's Nature" series.  I hope you find them pleasant and thought-provoking as well.  (You deserve something after reading all these ramblings!)
Honestly, Thank you for your time!
Jeff Pendergrass 
 
 

 

 

 

*  All Titles (eg "Man's Nature", "Possess 1", "Display 1", "Control 1" and others) and all images are copyrighted by J.P. Pendergrass and cannot be used without my expressed permission.