Art among the lumber
The showroom at Sequoia Outdoor Supply has all the offerings of a major lumber and construction concern: cedar play sets and wooden swings, fence posts and boxes of nails. But interspersed among them, like ancient Greek denizens molded of quicksilver and frozen in motion, stand a dozen or more welded metal sculptures.
Here, a giant hand grasps a Leviathan link of chain. There, an angel spreads her wings. Clasped hands, faces in profile, silver torsos, a musician holding a horn.
Both kinds of construction – the utilitarian and the creative – are the work of Garrett Haab, who has been in the construction business for 22 years, and a self-taught artist for just the past few. Both personas vie for his attention, says Haab with a laugh.
“All day, Artist Garrett and Business Garrett battle. I’ll be in the middle of some big sale and have an idea for a piece that I can’t wait to go into the back and start.”
The juxtaposition of art and industry is Haab’s signature, in life as well as his work. “I’ve always loved to build and create,” he writes in his artist statement. “Although my mother cried the day I dropped out of LSU to build decks and fences, today she happily works side by side with my kids and me in the lumber business. These experiences … provide the inspiration for my art.”
Haab started welding sculptures in 2010. “I went into the back one day just looking for something to relieve stress,” he says. He picked up a few pieces of rebar, and welded them into a redfish. “The first time I did it, my wife thought I was insane.”
She’s come around. Haab is building a solid career as an artist, with a successful showing at the most recent Jazz Fest, a towering 900-pound sculpture called “Earth” installed along Veteran’s Memorial Highway, and a provocative piece called “Triumph” on view at Where Y'art M Studio on Julia Street through Dec. 1, celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness.
His works have progressed far beyond the initial rebar stage. He takes found materials lying at hand in his lumber yard – carriage bolts, railroad spikes, lengths of pipe – and welds them together. The 3400-degree torch liquefies the metal, creating mass that Haab bends and shapes as he goes, more like a glassblower than a metalworker.
“One guy at Jazz Fest bought one piece on Friday, and then came back for two more on Sunday. He said he knew they would be collectors’ items,” Haab recalls. Another customer bought a piece for his mother, an avid art collector. “He said he’d never seen figures done this way in metal. Most people use molds and casting.”
Haab points to a lifelike pair of clasped hands. “That’s made of a whole box – 450 – carriage bolts.” Such pieces, he says, spring to mind in their entirety. “In my head, I see the finished work.”
“Triumph” is particularly meaningful. Both Haab's grandmother and a 31-year-old friend passed away from breast cancer. In paying tribute to the cause, he created a stark but beautiful torso that has undergone a mastectomy.
“It’s about beauty, but it’s real,” he says. “I have two daughters, and it drives me nuts, this stigma about having to be perfect and beautiful.”
Reaction to the piece has been “phenomenal.” “Some women said it made them want to cry. After Jazz Fest, I had started to feel like an artist. But seeing this real response, well, that has been kind of neat.”
Haab will donate 20 percent of the sale of the $6100 sculpture to the Susan B. Komen Foundation. He also is making metal Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon sculptures that also will raise money for breast cancer research.
Artistic ability runs in Haab’s family: His 9-year-old daughter Amelia begged so hard to learn to weld that he has taught her the basics. “She helped fill in the holes on that piece,” he says, pointing to ‘Chains That Bind,” the Gargantuan hand.
When it comes to choosing subjects, Haab likes any kind of anatomy. He works until the piece seems complete. “I just know when it’s done. It has the right look.”
He can’t tell you how long a particular piece will take – “I sneak into the back from the front desk to work on it.” On weekends, if his family isn’t around, he’ll order a pizza and a six-pack and weld for 12 hours straight.
“I don’t play golf, and I don’t watch sports,” says Haab. “I do this.”
Artist Garrett, it seems, may well be taking over.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]