Some artists are stirred by the hubbub of city life while others find their muses amid quiet reverie. For sculptor and designer Abe Geasland, a trove of creative inspiration was waiting in a Pennsylvania scrap yard filled with the dismantled mechanical innards of Rust Belt factories. He found this dump in the early 1990s near Franklin & Marshall College, where his largely self-directed art studies led him to design.
These discarded totems of the Industrial Age –– the bits and gears, the fixtures, controls and levers, forged to last but now no longer needed –– all formed a well of raw material for a design style Geasland describes as “post-industrial primitive.”
“It really started my fascination with mechanical design and trying to come to terms with these objects,” Geasland says. “They have a sculptural quality all their own, and I want to transition that to another, to give them a different life altogether.”
Professors bought design pieces built from these elements at his senior show, and that gave him the confidence to continue his work. After college, he found a job at a design studio near campus that he credits with giving him an informal apprenticeship, enabling him to continue developing his design style while working on commissioned pieces. Geasland has family ties to New Orleans, which drew him here to live in 2003. The city’s industrial history now informs his creations, which usually take the form of lamps, large timepieces and tables.
“There’s already this aesthetic component to the design,” Geasland says. “I like objects that have this history. You can’t duplicate the effect of time acting on them; it has this patina built in.”
Today he spends as much time scouring recycling yards and demolition sites for interesting industrial shapes as he does designing and building pieces. In some cases he immediately sees the finished piece that one component will anchor, though it’s more common for them to linger in a collection until just the right later find brings a whole composition together.
The original purpose of these sometimes-burly, sometimes-intricate, reliably solid pieces is often obscure, but Geasland transforms them into objects whose new function is as intuitive as furniture.
“I think all art is functional; it goes to how you describe that function,” he says.
More examples of his work are available on his Web site, www.abegeasland.com.