Judith Ann Moriarty

Bugs Funny

Michael Nolte transforms manicure scissors into metal flies, and then there's the "Chainapede"...

By - Jul 9th, 2012 10:51 am
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If you wish to live and thrive, let a spider run alive. (Old English countryside aphorism)


A Michael Nolte bug. All photos courtesy of the Vanguard Sculpture Services website.

When is a fly not a fly? Give up? It’s when it’s a 2” x 2” “Scissor Fly” made by Michael Nolte, co-owner of Vanguard Sculpture Services. It’s what he does in his spare time when he’s not busy casting the work of other artists. A 1982 graduate of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (the then-new school’s first class), he figures he’s made at least 1,500 of the insects, or at least enough to make most folks buggy.

Nolte believes in the power of tools, so he incorporates them into his insects’ designs. The aforementioned wee Scissor Fly came to be when manicure scissors mated with forks. Essentially Nolte is a fabulist, and it more or less began when he wrote a story about spiders and sent it to a friend during his college days. Years later, as a joke, Nolte fashioned a spider from a pair of pliers, and thus was born the Plier Spider, one of a veritable swarm of creepy crawlies.

nolte-mosquito-snailI asked him if he uses pesticides to keep the real creepies out of his home. “Never,” he said, “I use only baking soda and vinegar.” That said, he does allow centipedes to inhabit his space, because they kill and eat other insects.

He arranges an assortment of metal insects on a table and settles in to chatting about his love of tools. “My goal when I make an assemblage,” he says, “is to have both the tool and the creature it has been transformed into visible at the same time. I want the tool to maintain its identity as a tool. Tool making is such an essential part of the human experience.”

He celebrates the lowly rake in a 7’x 4’ assemblage titled Rake Palm. It’s big and bodacious. Look for it in the Charles Allis Gardens exhibition.

nolte-mosquito-sculptureThe insect sculptures have sold consistently in local gift shops and at art fairs. He tests his welds by throwing the bugs on the floor. If the welds don’t break, they’re ready for the fairs. “I get checks each and every month,” so you could say, bugs are his bread and butter. After all, $600 is a deal for a 4’ long Chainapede, fashioned from square chain salvaged from a manure spreader. All of his pieces, big or small, have a chemical patina and all are hot waxed. During art fairs, he yells out to the crowd, “Wind can’t break ‘em; rain won’t hurt ‘em.”

To keep from going buggy, lately he’s turned to making fish. He has an idea for a jellyfish with a metal body and dangling arms made from the wooden parts in the guts of a piano. The ideas flow from him, and he says “the moment of now is when everything happens.” Nolte is full of quotes. He’s the opposite of art school snobs who look down their noses at anything as (allegedly) silly as bugs made from recycled tools.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Art

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