August 2006 Issue
The artistry of Don Drumm, 71, has become a hallmark of the city of Akron and throughout Ohio. The metal sculptor, who has a three-building studio and gallery complex on Crouse Street near The University of Akron, also has many large-scale commissions in the city, as well as across the country and on other continents. He has been living and producing art in Ohio for more than 40 years, and his sun faces and metal sculptures have been greeting residents and visitors throughout the city and the state for decades.
Much of this work is currently on display at the Mansfield Art Center in a retrospective of his career, entitled "Marching to the Beat of a Different Drummer, Don Drumm Retrospective: 1960 to 2006," which runs through August 27.
Paul Kemerling, executive director of the Mansfield Art Center, got the idea for a retrospective two years ago when he began looking back over the history of the center. Drumm had been one of the first professional artists to consign work to the center's gallery shop. "I saw this extraordinary legacy of collaboration and thought that there really was a moment here for us to be able to look back on Don's career," Kemerling says. He sees Drumm as an icon in Ohio's visual arts community.
Yet Drumm's career path could have easily gone in a different direction. In 1952, he was a Hiram College freshman aiming for a pre-med major but not looking forward to a required calculus class. He convinced an art professor to allow him into her already full class, and an artist was born.
Drumm transferred to Kent State University to pursue a bachelor's of fine art and then a master's of art, working mostly in welded metal. He credits his grandfather, who was a blacksmith, and father, who was an autoworker, with his affinity for metalworking. He also enjoys the dimensionality that sculpting presents. Dealing with gravity, weathering and all the logistics of working with pieces in space are the challenges that delight him.
His first job after school introduced him to metal casting. In 1960, when the industrial design firm where he was working closed, Drumm decided to become a full-time artist. His specialty became the casting of aluminum. He also works with cement, cast pewter, cut steel and cut aluminum.
"The work that Don does," Kemerling says, "really has taken metal craft to another level. I think he truly has infused a very sophisticated fine-arts perspective into what may at first glance - the idea of working in metal - be seen more as craft-oriented."
But Drumm considers himself more a problem-solver than an artist. He once spent a year perfecting the casting of a leaf because he enjoyed the challenge. This is also how he arrived at his trademark sun face, which he has repeated in his craft pieces and large-scale sculptures. A professor at Kent once told him that the circle is the hardest shape an artist must deal with because it is already a complete entity. Drumm liked the sound of the challenge and began tinkering with the shape. His circles soon evolved into suns, and he found he enjoyed repeating the theme.
Looking back on his career, Drumm likens his evolution as an artist to railroad tracks. One track represents his creativity and vision; the other is his physical ability and technique. "The trick is to make them run parallel," he says. He can recall times during his career when his technique lagged behind his vision, or when he became too caught up in technicalities. Now, he says, he feels as though he's arrived at a place where he's working mostly parallel. "It still doesn't run evenly, but it runs a lot better than it did before," he says.
The retrospective will display hundreds of pieces from his 40-plus years as an artist, including some works being shown publicly for the first time. But the show doesn't mark the end of Drumm's career. "I'm too old to retire," he says. Two of his latest pieces are currently being put up in public buildings in Akron, and more are no doubt on the way.
| The Mansfield Art Center
700 Marion Ave., Mansfield
Tues.â€“Sat. 11 a.m.â€“5 p.m. Sun. 12â€“5 p.m.
The exhibit runs through Aug. 27