Limestone and Steel
by Bill Weaver, photos by Bill Weaver
“I do a little bit of everything,” says Jim Connor at his workshop deep in the wilds of Brown County below Lanam Ridge. “I work with steel and I work with stone, sometimes I paint.”
True to his word, Jim’s yard is full of the constructions he’s made of steel, stone, wood, and geode. “They are so unique,” he says of the limestone nodules that are found locally in abundance. He doesn’t cut them open to reveal their crystalline innards like most, instead using them as heavy, potent flowerheads on springy steel stalks. “I thought they were such interesting objects that there had to be some way to make art out of them.”
Jim learned an appreciation for art at the same time he learned to manipulate hot metal. “My mother was a painter and my dad was an ironworker. He taught me how to weld at an early age,” he recalls. Like his mother he learned to appreciate art. Like his father he became a structural ironworker. “I worked high steel and that’s what I liked. It was dangerous, you were always on the edge. It was fast-paced work. I loved going onto a site where there would be nothing. Then truckloads of steel would arrive and—lo and behold—when we finished there would be a 60-story high-rise building or a bridge. When I work on art I’m like that. I get in that hyper mode and get creative. I work three or four hours at a time and then I’m completely exhausted. I have to lie down and meditate to get my heart rate and breathing to slow back down,” he laughs. “Otherwise I’d go until I fell over!”
A tall metal sculpture stands outside his workshop. “This piece is going for the children’s burn auction,” he says. Called The Tree of Life, the work—a steel sapling that has survived the ravages of forest fire—symbolizes the strength that fire victims require, a promise of renewed life. It also serves as frame for artwork by Anabel Hopkins, Daren Redman, Michele Pollock, Dixie Ferrer, Sharon Junglaus, and Joe Best.
Out back is the Zen garden Connor and his wife have built. Water burbles down several rock steps. “When we bought this place it was abandoned. Back here was a big mud hole,” he remembers. “I poured the sidewalk and built the deck. My wife put in the flowerbeds. It’s a sanctuary. In order to be creative you need a place where your mind can be still.”
Jim feels compelled to make art. “I don’t do it for the money,” he says. “I love to make things. I like to challenge myself. To me it’s not so much the end result, it’s the creative process to get there. Once I get inspired and realize the direction that I’m going I work very fast. Sometimes my art is a little dangerous. I get burned and cut. I’m always on the edge. I want to do things that nobody else has done.”
Jim finds inspiration in the art of Andy Goldsworthy, a Scottish sculptor and land artist, who creates fantastic temporary structures. “He uses the materials he finds in nature and creates art,” Jim says. “His art is not overcomplicated, but it is very intriguing. He works with stone, ice, wood—they’re simple and they’re temporary.
“I’d probably be more successful if I would conform myself to one thing but it’s not me. I’d rather be hungry and experiment,” he laughs. “I try to keep everything positive. Each piece of art that you make is a little part of your soul. That’s why I like abstract art. You’re creating something from the mind and not copying something that’s already there. It’s a process from within.”
Jim and his wife have lived in Brown County for the last twelve years. “We came here for a visit and decided this is where we wanted to live. It’s the only place I’ve felt at home. To be surrounded by so many artists and talented musicians and creative people—it’s a sanctuary away from this mad world. It’s a great community and I believe in a strong sense of community. I only regret we didn’t do it thirty years earlier.”
To see Jim Connor’s art call him at (812) 988-7803 for an appointment or drop by the Venue Gallery at 114 S. Grant Street in Bloomington.
Brave Art for Brave Hearts—The Tree of Life auction to raise funds for the People’s Burn Foundation, Brave Hearts’ Camp in Brown County is part of the FigTree Gallery’s 2009 “Under the Fig Art Fest” on June 5 and 6 in Helmsburg.