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Fred Wellner: Making Magic from Metal
Fred Wellner ’17 is a native of Baldwinsville and a senior designer with Syracuse University Press. He is also a talented metalwork artist and a regular participant in the University’s On My Own Time (OMOT) exhibition. Through the years, OMOT judges have deemed many of his pieces worthy of selection for the annual community-wide exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art.
Here, Wellner talks about his day job and his art, as well as OMOT and collaborations with his wife, Laura Wellner ’84, the registrar at the SUArt Galleries and a 35-year staff member at the University (fun fact: the couple met on the Crouse College steps in 1984 and were married the next year).
What exactly does a senior designer for Syracuse University Press do?
Broadly, I design inside text and covers of some of the SU Press titles. There’s a more technical side to it, all which probably needs less description, but we can refer to it as digital preparation for the various uses in which a book will become and exist. And then there’s the trafficking of each job. I do, on occasion, create art for covers.
How long have you been with the Press?
Thirty years as of this coming Sept. 5. The first seven years I worked in the warehouse.
What did you do before?
Laborer, lumber delivery driver, etc.
Did you study art in school or are you self-taught?
Self-taught. Actually, my degree is in philosophy and religion [from Syracuse University, in 2017].
Is metalwork your favorite form of art? Do you delve into other art forms, too?
My start was in graphite. Later, I was a painter (oils and then acrylic) and soapstone sculptor for many years before working with metal. I sold work out of the Delavan Art Center and then Szozda Gallery before that closed.
You mention the Delavan Center and Szozda Gallery. Have you had material exhibited elsewhere?
Yes, besides the Delavan and Szozda Galleries, Laura and I have had work shown at Floor One Gallery in Beacon [New York], Launchpad in Brooklyn, the Contemporary Art Gallery in Syracuse, Redhouse in Syracuse, and The Tech Garden in Syracuse.
How do you come by your ideas? What’s your inspiration?
Dying rustbelt, Transhumanism, lost pagan roots, and musing on what humanity trades for modern convenience.
Ballpark, how many pieces have you created?
A couple dozen.
Once you’ve created a piece, what do you do with it?
For now I’m still building a body of work. I keep things stored in my shop or out in the yard [in LaFayette, New York]. I have a large, four-legged creature called “Relic” about the size of a small pony out in the front yard near the road. Surprisingly, the metal scrappers haven’t stolen it.
What’s the typical size of your work? Is there a typical size, or do you do metal pieces of all sizes?
Average size would be about that of a small dog. My wife, Laura, has a small six- to eight-inch robot on a table next to where she works at the Syracuse University Art Galleries. My largest work is “Relic.”
Where can people find your pieces to buy them?
For now, it’s word-of-mouth, e-mail, Facebook.
How long have you been entering art in On My Own Time?
On and off, maybe 20-25 years. Regularly, the last five to 10, I think.
What do you have entered in this year’s On My Own Time?
It’s a joint work with Laura. My part is the rusted remains of a robot on one knee holding Laura’s beautiful handmade book with ones and zeros, and quotes from “Hamlet,” etc. There’s a message in the combination about existence and individual meaning. Technically, the two parts are in the show as separate pieces for reasons of OMOT policy, but Laura and I consider them together.
And you’ve had work selected for display at the community-wide exhibition at the Everson Museum.
I think I had a watercolor painting in the 1990s, an oil painting or two in the early to mid-2000s and metal sculpture the last five years.
That says a lot about the quality of the work you produce. Do you still get a kick out of seeing your art on display in the show?
OMOT has been very generous with their interest. I always get a charge seeing my work on display. I enjoy more that other people get to see it. I get inspired by seeing the other artists’ work, and I hope mine has the same effect back.
ABOUT ON MY OWN TIME
On My Own Time, now in its 46th year, was developed as a community arts program to bring visibility to the creative skills of people employed in local businesses and organizations. It is co-sponsored by CNY Arts and the Everson Museum of Art.
Syracuse University’s in-house exhibition opens Monday, April 29, and continues through the closing reception for artists, family members and volunteers on Wednesday, May 15. The exhibition may be viewed weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Noble Room in Hendricks Chapel.
A panel of professional artists assembled by CNY Arts will serve as judges for the in-house exhibition. Artwork selected by the panel will be featured in a public exhibition at the Everson Museum in the fall.