COLE CAMP — Bill Brackett is a metal shaping artist with the mind of a mathematical scientist and the heart of an engineer who “grows” a garden of cold steel flowers from his studio on state Route 52.
He is presently showing his work at Gentle Landscape Studio and Gallery, owned by Neil Heimsoth, in Cole Camp, until the end of the month.
Brackett began his botanical journey as a the owner of EarthScape in Phoenix where he perfected desert landscaping design and construction and loved to work with with varied colors of silvers and greens incorporating them into natural settings using high desert and low desert plants
“During my first year I studied native landscapes and kind of immersed myself into it,” he said. “I was fascinated with the desert … it’s funny because my work now is a lot like my landscape design because I enjoyed combining the different textures of the desert plants and the different greens and slivers. A lot of people thought the silvers were monotonous but I thought they were fascinating, especially if you put a little bit of green in with them.”
Brackett said he took a balloon ride over the desert to study the composition of the desert plants while working as a landscaper and also took classes at a desert botanical garden.
He has now taken the colors of his desert landscaping and focused it into metal botanical sculptures. Often at art shows Brackett will intersperse rusted pieces in with the silver and has found they sell well.
“So you get the same similar kind of contrast, but instead of green it’s red and silver,” he said. “It’s funny I sell more rusted pieces for inside than for outside. What I did in the desert, it’s in my metal flowers now.”
He eventually sold his business and his house in Phoenix and travelled around the country.
“One of my customers suggested that I was going to become an itinerant artist,” he said, smiling.
But he discovered that while living on the road driving an R.V. there wasn’t a place to create art. After a hiatus of five years he came to Cole Camp and bought a house in the country, and although his traveling stopped his artistic journey didn’t end. It continued with him sketching and planting a vegetable garden.
“I still have over three very thick sketch books full of ideas,” he said. “Kinetic sculptures and aeolian instruments, a lot of people think wind chimes, well there’s aeolian organs and aeolian harps. And I was just searching for something, and it was very important to me to sell what I created. I really wanted to do that, but in the back of my mind I still had this interest in botany, but I was taking care of that need with a vegetable garden.”
Eventually a sighting of a copper rose on the Internet prompted him to began working with metal in early 2005.
“That’s how the flowers happened, it was just an accident,” he said.
Brackett who attended 12 art shows this year, works seven days a week creating his art. Through the use of “obsolete” machines meant for other purposes Brackett is able to create his pieces with ease. He said that he stretches, shrinks and pushes cold steel.
“A lot of people assume when they see the shapes that I have to use heat to do that,” he said. “It’s cold, it’s controlled denting.
“I think the most important machine I have operates a lot like a sewing machine,” he added. “It goes up and down and repeatedly pushes the metal over and over again so sometimes you can actually see it track were I’ve pushed the metal through. It’s called a stationary nibbler-it was made to nibble metal.”
He also uses a guided way hammer with a 9-pound hammer head on a track and a planishing hammer. The planishing hammer creates finesse with smooth fluid shapes, he said. The nibbler creates linear shapes while the guided way hammer offers a courser finish.
Brackett said his creations are a product of mathematical reasoning, measuring and equations.
“There’s a lot of math involved,” he said. “I’m sort of like a closet scientist-engineer-mathematician.”
Brackett said in his house are papers with trial and error formulas for creating his pieces, some, such as his chrysanthemum piece, took seven days to work out.
“I look at the proportions and I’ll find a really good photograph or illustration,” Brackett said. “The illustration starts as the root of the design.”
Flowers in the photo are first measured and he begins his design.
“Some people are intimidated by mathematics, but I just won’t go there,” he added. “Yesterday Neil and I were taking about spirals. And the pine cone spiral, I’m fascinated with those. I was telling Neil about the separate little pieces of a pine cone occurring every 222 degrees around the core of the pine cone—it happens to work out to the golden mean, the perfect ratio. A tree would grow that way if it wasn’t disturbed. I just like the math.”
Brackett was surprised to find that pattern of the spiral always repeated on the 61st piece created.
“I had to manually figure that out because I didn’t know how to do a spread sheet,” he said laughing. “If you hung out with me you’d realize I’m a lunatic okay, but I have fun being one!”
He began to dabble with what a 221 or a 217 spiral would look like.
“I think 217 is a lot more fun than 222, so I manually did all these numbers,” he said. “When I looked at the mum there was no spiral there that I could really detect. I could see a spiral here and there … it confounded me so I literally fooled around with it for seven days. I was messing around with factors and divisors and it occurred to me that 30, 24 and 18 were all divisible by six, three and two. It’s kind of fun, because where ever there is a six there is a perfect spiral in that mum, and the rest of it will seem to appear and disappear. In five places it will it looks perfectly organized, and the rest of those five places are a mess. It looks random, but you can find five perfect spirals. That was more difficult than to make a perfect spiral, and that was by accident.”
In total, Brackett has created more than 30 botanical species, including orchids, cactus dahlias, Amazon elephant ears and his best seller, a lily. All were created without molds and hand-worked. His chrysanthemum between 4 and 5 feet tall, while his hepatica flower is only 2 feet. Prices range from $298 for the mum to $148 for the hepatica.
“It’s just fun figuring stuff out,” he added smiling. “I have a blast, I wish I could do nothing but design stuff all day long.”
Brackett’s work can be viewed Fridays and Saturdays at the Gentle Landscape Studio and Gallery, 209 E. Main, in Cole Camp, or by appointment by calling Heimsoth at 668-3157 or Brackett at 221-8722. Those interested may also visit Brackett’s studio just east of Cole Camp on state Route 52 or his website at www.oak-n-iron.com.