John Pahlas stands behind his bird sculptures, which are the most popular at art shows. submitted photo
Former Ripon resident enjoys experimenting with different sculptures
by Laura Lyke
Green Lake Reporter
Professional artist and former Ripon resident John Pahlas can’t remember a day when metalworking wasn’t a major part of his life.
“My parents owned Metalworks Inc. in Ripon for the last 40 years and it has definitely had a huge impact on my life,” Pahlas said. “Having been brought up in a family whose artistic innovations go back five generations, I’ve learned that the creative act is far more than a hobby or a pastime. From when I was young, I learned traditional blacksmithing techniques and eventually I evolved from there.”
Pahlas recalls that as a young kid he would work with his parents producing metal creations, however, it wasn’t until later in life that he wanted to carry on the metalworking tradition professionally.
“For a long time I was really interested in filmmaking,” Pahlas said. “But I came to realize that I really enjoy the solo work of fine art. I think my parents influenced me heavily, as well. The tools and accessibility were right there, and there was the fact that I could help my parents, too, and continue the family business.”
Although he wanted to carry on the family passion for metalworking, Pahlas knew that he wanted to create his own unique style.
“Even after high school, I kept collecting metal scraps and playing around with them,” he said. “Basically, the first 10 years after 2000, I began to pump out some really funky, abstract sculptures. I always loved to play around in the shop, but it was then that I decided that I could turn it into professional playing around.”
Pahlas received his bachelor of fine arts from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in May 2013 and has been working full-time sculpting ever since.
“Although I had already built up a great deal of discipline and work ethic with my parents in their studio, college widened my artistic horizons and instilled a sense of independence that I hadn’t been given the opportunity to have working with my parents,” Pahlas said. “I went on to develop my own style, called ‘metal mosaics.’”
Pahlas transitioned from collecting scraps of metal out of dumpsters during his college days to now gathering pieces from his parents’ business, farm fields/equipment and neighbors and friends who drop scraps off.
The artist layers scraps of metal into intricate sculptures, many of which represent aspects of nature.
“I do a lot of animals because they’re very sought after,” Pahlas said. “I make birds and fish and other creatures, but my favorite part about this work is less about the big sculpture as a whole and more about creating new surfaces and textures. I love being creative with the pieces and surfaces. Although they’re not as popular at art shows, the abstract pieces are the most fun.”
Now living in Madison with wife, Heidi Clayton, the two opened a new studio May 9, but still travel regularly to art shows throughout the year.
“I’ve been doing shows all over the place now,” Pahlas said. “It all started in Green Lake, where I showed during college. It was a great gig in the summertime and I would help my parents in their booth. Now I go everywhere. We spent the spring season on the East Coast and the wintertime in Florida.”
Every year, Pahlas makes a point to return to where his art show career began.
“The Green Lake Fine Art Show is my baby. I return every year,” he said. “I love it. It’s not a premier show with 300,000 people, but Green Lake has always been down-to-earth and so supportive and not so ‘in your face.’ I’ve also made great friends at the Green Lake Fine Art Show and have seen other people with family ties to shows like these. Things like these run through the family lineage.”
Pahlas has more plans for his art as well, including sharing his passion with the community.
“There are a couple art walks that I participate in and this winter I’m going to work on getting some galleries,” Pahlas said “Heidi and I are also gearing up to do some fall and winter classes where kids come in and learn how to make pots and ceramics. We both love art. It’s a wonderful thing and what better thing to do than share it with others.”