By Pat Leuchtman
Friday, April 19, 2013
John Sendelbach is a man of many parts. Most recently, some people have come to know him as the winner of the commission to create “Brookie,” a graceful 10-foot silver sculpture of a brook trout. It will be made of cutlery, reminding us of our industrial history, as well as the natural beauties of the river. This sculpture will be placed at the entry to Greenfield on Deerfield Street later this year.
Some know Sendelbach because of the stone fountain on the Bridge of Flowers, This beautiful work was the result of an amazing collaboration between Paul Forth, stone mason, and Julie Petty, then co-chairwoman of the Bridge of Flowers committee, and Sendelbach.
Still others know him because of the stone walls and pergolas he designed and built in their private gardens, and others for the elegant metal wall sculptures that hang on their walls.
It is clear to me that all these parts reflect his sense of design and beauty in the home as well as in the landscape. But his training began when he attended Cornell University and majored in floriculture and ornamental horticulture.
He then came to the University of Massachusetts and worked toward a landscape architecture and regional planning degree. There he met Chris Baxter and the two formed Whirlwind Fine Garden Design, designing and building residential landscapes.
That business still exists, but after a visit to the Paradise City Arts Festival, Sendelbach said his world changed. “I had never seen anything like that. The art world was off my radar. I saw beautiful metal and stone objects. While I had dabbled in art, something suddenly clicked. I thought I could make art to sell.”
It is art he has been making ever since. “Because I was a landscape person, that is where I went with my art. I had already been building garden structures like pergolas and working with wood and stone, but since garden art has to be durable, I focused on metal and stone,” he said.
The Metal Stone Arts Gallery (johnsendelbach.com) in Shelburne Falls is where Sendlebach does some of his work turning old bicycle rims and washing machine drums into art. Visitors to the gallery sometimes place a special commission, and sometimes they ask for a bit of metal repair. Sendelbach can do it all.
The natural world certainly influences his art. The large stylized stone salamander and newt sculptures he created in Amherst parks make use of the spiral. “I think the spiral is a compelling form. People walk it, like a labyrinth. It’s a good way of getting people to engage with the art,” he said.
When I look at some of the humorous sculptures around Sendelbach’s gallery, I realize how very timid I have been about employing art in my own garden. At the same time, I recognize the truth of Sendelbach’s statement that “art is a way to bring the human element into the garden, humanity expressed through sculpture.”
He also says, “Art is a critical element in the garden. It provides a focal point for the eye, or for a stroll which may be a point of discovery as you come around a corner.”
Some of Sendelbach’s garden sculptures are functional, like his unusual birdbaths, but I was taken by a little stone creature that I immediately named “Joy.” I could imagine coming around a corner and surprising him in his ecstatic dance, an ode to sun and flower. This little creature expresses just how I feel in the garden, rising from my knees to twirl in the sun.
Sendelbach has found his own joy in his gallery, a joy that goes beyond the satisfying work. “My experience at the shop has been a transition into the community. I’ve never had this experience before … Art has led me to community.”