Harold Baldwin: Engaging & Moving Metal Sculptures

Written by Deborah Lewis Category: Visual Arts Issue: January 2017
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"Steam Punk Pinball" by Harold Baldwin. Photo by Deborah Lewis.Calling Harold Baldwin a “patient” man is an understatement. It takes him months, even years to finish a single piece of artwork. But it’s well worth the wait. Baldwin creates complex and meticulous works that are at once whimsical and engaging. They are moving – in every sense of the word.

Recently, his three-foot high kinetic sculpture at the Shemer Art Center, “Steam Punk Pinball,” had lines of people waiting to crank the handle and watch as two balls moseyed through the piece via bike chain. Everyone slipped into a joyful state as they looked on, mesmerized.

Baldwin demonstrates blacksmithing. Photo by Deborah Lewis.After 30 years, Baldwin retired in 1996 from his day job as an industrial arts teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District. Since then, he has continued mastering machine-shop processes and creating unique metal works. The Arizona sculpture scene has been the recipient of his expertise and passion. Unpretentious by nature, Baldwin explains his love story with metal like this: “It’s in my blood.” He notes the preceding three generations of his family were mechanics and blacksmiths.

Although he officially was born in Kansas, Harold Baldwin he could not be more Arizona home-grown. He moved with his family to Wickenburg as a toddler and then onto Phoenix. He attended now-defunct Phoenix West High and Phoenix College’s art program before graduating from Arizona State University. Along the way, Baldwin realized he could “draw with metal.” The epiphany was a life-changer.

"Seagulls" by Harold Baldwin. Photo by Deborah Lewis.In the early 1970s, Baldwin built his home, mostly by himself, in the desert near South Mountain. The beautiful house includes a painting studio for Joanne, his wife of 51 years. Baldwin built his own workshop/studio as a stand alone building behind his residence, and it serves as the hothouse for his myriad creative impulses. The shop is meticulously organized and clean (both musts considering the number of machines and tools on hand). He even lines the pieces of metal scrap just outside the studio in an orderly fashion.Untitled wheel sculpture by Harold Baldwin. Photo by Deborah Lewis.

Baldwin loves to tell stories about his hand and power tools: For him, each has a personality and history of its own. A master teacher, he explains the purpose of each tool and demonstrates how each works and fits into his artistic plans (after a short safety lesson, of course).

The longevity of metal requires thinking in terms of centuries. Works made from metal outlive their creators and blacksmithing is an ancient art form. Baldwin still uses his direct ancestors’ work tools, and has continued the clan’s tool-making tradition. So, when Baldwin speaks about his work, he sounds like a philosopher-historian. Asked about his artistic inspirations, Baldwin responds metaphysically, “I think the metal is as strong an influence as I am.”

Baldwin is very active in the local art and blacksmithing communities. “Old men tend to be isolated, and this gets me out of it,” he says, and leaves it at that.

He takes just two words when asked what’s next on his artist agenda. “Musical sculpture.”

Can’t wait.

Check out his work during the month of January at the Glendale Arts Council Annual Juried Fine Arts Exhibit.