Stan Smokler at the Delaware Art Museum

Art can be intimidating. New artists may be intimidated by skill and experience, or even by artistic mediums. Audiences might be intimidated by the works themselves, or the concepts they represent. The cascading effects of a single artist can impact generations in untold ways. A new exhibit at the Delaware Art Museum, Steel in Flux, opens June 25th and runs through September 11th celebrates the work and impact of Stan Smokler. His dynamic steel sculptures and work educating future artists has created a legacy that ripples through the art world.

"Bison" by Stan Smokler

The pieces included in Steel in Flux represent Smokler’s decades-long career, from works created in New York City in the 1970s through the 1990s, to pieces created at his Marshall Bridge Studio in Kennett Square during the past twenty-five years. “To me, the span of work captures his expansive growth as an artist and the influence of his environs,” says Madeline Lewis, Smokler’s wife of thirty-five years. “The earlier work in NYC tends to reflect a more urban, architectural visual world; and the work over the past twenty-five years, created at his bucolic Studio on the Red Clay Creek, tends to be more inspired by nature and open space.”

This retrospective show gives voice to Smokler’s work with a unique perspective. Seven years ago, Smokler found that he was having difficulty “finding the words to express myself,” as he put it at the time. Through neuropsychological testing, he was found to have cognitive impairment, and after tracking his progress, was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, FTD. A progressive and fatal disease, it has a range of impacts, including aphasia, loss of physical energy, strength, and balance, and diminished comprehension and memory. Smokler continued working, teaching, and sculpting his beautiful works after the diagnosis, up until earlier this year.

Steel in Flux is part of the Delaware Art Museum’s Distinguished Artist series. The DAM, specifically Margaret Winslow, Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art, wanted to celebrate Smokler’s career and works with this exhibit. Lewis worked with Winslow and others to create this exhibit: “I assisted the Delaware Art Museum team by helping to represent Stan’s voice and provide materials and information.”

Lele Galer, a local artist who is a former student of Smokler’s, is also taking part by helping to organize a workshop at the Marshall Bridge Studio alongside the exhibition. She has a wonderful perspective on the show: “For the first time, we can see Stan’s work from the beginning, where he was first inspired by the famous steel sculptors that he worked with, to the development of his own style.” Smokler’s pieces vary in size, technique, and style. Galer notes, “He has big bold steel statements that are at one with their outside environment, as well as tabletop sculptures that are more intimate.”

Smokler’s works may seem other worldy, but careful eyes can find familiar shapes and figures. “Many of his works incorporate steel components (gears, machine parts etc) that are simply used for their shape, size or textures,” Galer says. “I think he may be one of the first steel artists to use the mig flux wire as an artistic material rather than just a joining medium.”

Circle of Lines by Stan Smokler

The inspiration for these pieces comes from many places, but some are quite close to home. Lewis notes that two pieces in particular speak to her, “Eleanor, 1994, named for our daughter, because it captures her strength and exuberant spirit; and Masquerade 2018, because of its organic simplicity, rich texture, and engaging use of negative space and structure.” Galer admires one of his pieces from a series entitled “Caged Botany”—they “have a very bold geometric frame or cage which can hardly contain the exuberant, organic intertwining of steel shapes and curvilinear lines. For me, it speaks to the creative process, breaking through the boundaries . . . and also to nature which is constantly growing and evolving in beautiful and surprising ways.”

The workshop at Smokler’s Marshall Bridge Studio, titled Bending Metal, will be held on July 16th, with a rain date of July 18th. Galer and another former student of Smokler’s, Mike Kahler, will lead a tour of the grounds and demonstrate Smokler’s process, as well as assist students in creating a small artwork of their own. “The students will see where the magic takes place—where Stan has created most of his steel sculptures and taught his famous Marshall Bridge Steel Sculpture workshops,” Galer says. “They will see the very beautiful natural environment of the bubbling Red Clay Creek as it runs alongside his historic two-story stone Studio and sculpture grounds.”

The Studio itself is a wonder not to be missed, with “crumbling down stone structures that lead nowhere, set alongside the Red Clay Creek, with lovely shading trees and large steel sculptures throughout,” Galer describes. “Steel material is everywhere, methodically organized by shape, size, and weight.”

Steel in Flux and Bending Metal are a unique opportunity to see art from every angle. Smokler’s work, including his decades spent sharing his techniques and artistic journey with students of all ages and skill levels, is more than deserving of the love, care, and appreciation that has gone into these offerings. Lewis hopes that those who experience Smokler’s Studio or artwork take away “two legacies—the ability of an artist to transform simple, discarded steel objects into beautiful, evocative art; and his generous spirit as a teacher who passed on his passion for working in metal.”

About Victoria Flickinger

Victoria (she/her) is an editor, writer, avid reader, self-described geek, and fan of all things creative. Her passion for words has led to her current career as a freelance editor, and she is the owner of Flickering Words, an editing service. When not wielding a red pen (or cursor), she loves reading books of all genres, playing video, board, and word games, baking ridiculous creations to show off on the internet, or enjoying the gorgeous outdoors. She is a board member of the West Chester Film Festival and part of the Thirsty Monsters, a team of streamers from around the world who fundraise for various charities supporting LGBTQIA+ and accessibility rights. She can be found online @WordsFlickering or the Brandywine Art Guide @BrandywineArtGuide.

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