James Kitchen has been welding scrap metal for fifteen years at his home and studio in Chesterfield, Massachusetts. He continues to gain recognition in the world of fine arts and is eager for the day when he will be able to create his intriguing sculptures on a full time basis. In his large workshop behind his house, he spends his free time creating sculptures crafted from recycled objects made of iron and steel. “Old rusted tools and farm equipment are favorites of mine, said kitchen. I grew up in Wisconsin near farms and remember seeing all the old plows and parts. There’s some kind of connection that pulls at me.” Nowadays, kitchen is creating larger and larger pieces. “I’m up on a ladder a lot holding onto a welding torch in one hand and some welding rods and a ladder rung in the other wondering about the scale some of these behemoths take.” Kitchen’s art ranges from a few inches to thirty feet high. Kitchen has a powerful sense of creativity and a nonstop drive, which turns those heaps of iron (he tells his wife Karen that it’s not junk, its inventory) into incredible works of art. “He certainly does it on a large scale and with a lot of humor behind it,” says Heather Haskell the Director of the Springfield Museum of Fine Art.
Kitchen shows a great passion for his art. Working a full time job of 50-70 hours a week, he spends the remainder of his free time welding in his unheated workshop. His art stems from an enthusiasm for history and a devotion to his local community. “I feel part historian and part archeologist, creating new life,” says Kitchen. All of the metal in his sculptures come from local farms, antique stores, auctions, and the occasional drive-by neighbor who leaves piles of interesting objects in Kitchen’s driveway. “I like the fact that it’s my town and community and their history.” He has even rescued cutlery, tossed from a closed factory, from the Mill River. “I’m rescuing this poor old piece,” Kitchen says holding a rusted butter knife, “and enriching someone’s life.” Kitchen uses nature to mature and nurture his sculptures into the finest rust patina and does little else to alter the metal. “I don’t try to reshape stuff, if it goes then it was meant to be there,” he says. He first showed his creations in 2001 at the William Cullen Bryant Art Fair and won Best of Show for the quality of his work and innovative display. Since then he has displayed his art in other local fairs, museums, and art guild shows in the Western Massachusetts area. He also shows work at L’Attitude Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston, and Michelson’s Gallery in Northampton Massachusetts.
In 2003 Kitchen was one of the artists chosen to display his work in the Springfield Museum of Fine Art’s local artists series. He was selected by a panel of judges for the “ability to look at his work on a number of different levels, his creativity, and his craftsmanship,” according to the director Heather Haskell. “Our visitors greatly enjoyed the show, they stayed for a long time,” Haskell added. His 3,000 pound sculpture Saturn, which he worked on for five years, was on exhibit all last year near the museum’s entrance and now a piece entitled Semblance is in their permanent art collection. Director Heather Haskell reported that the Museums committee “unanimously, and enthusiastically, voted their approval to accept Semblance into the collection of the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts.” When a large inch thick cast-off piece of pipe was rescued from a scrap bin at Deerfield Valley Re-Fab Kitchen, immediately knew that it was destined to be part of a great piece of art. “The wavy ring created by an acetylene cutting torch excited my imagination,” said Kitchen. “This piece encapsulates my understanding of the human condition.” The sculpture was accompanied with the following poem written by him:
Suspended in an ethereal ring
sculpted with gravity, twisting in time.
We’re captive in a corporeal cage
vainglorious, then silent, and yet sublime.
Ruminating on a lifetime
answers elude a grasping hand
Tentative, ever onward
Only longing, is our compass, to understand
Semblance was first exhibited at the Paradise City Arts Fair, where Kitchen displays every year, and became a favorite of viewers, but the artist was unable to put on a price on his favorite piece. Semblance is in the permanent collection of the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts.
Kitchen continues to exhibit artwork outside Meekins Library in Williamsburg and fifty sculptures are now on display inside Mass Development’s newly renovated building at 1550 Main Street in Springfield. Dozens of large pieces will be on public display at 1550 and throughout downtown Springfield starting on May 1st. Don Courtemanche of the Springfield BID negotiated all of the venues and WGBY is partnering with an opening reception on May 12th to celebrate public art in downtown and WGBY’s fortieth anniversary in broadcasting. Kitchen, who is a big fan of NOVA, will be donating a large portion of any sales to the station and 10% of any large pieces sold will also go to the BID.
When people meet Kitchen they are drawn to him and his art. Neighbors leave metal scraps in his driveway. Farmers invite Kitchen to help himself to their metal piles. When people view his work they are astounded. A University of Massachusetts professor has helped produce his website in exchange for sculptures. “They populate my garden and my house like treasured friends. Please don’t tell James that websites are never finished!” “People will walk by and touch pieces, and then come back again,”says Karen, “It’s neat that they have to touch the sculptures.” His large- scale sculptures enliven the spirit and invoke a deep range of emotions.
“In my heart I feel this is my calling in life,” says Kitchen, “everything I have done leads up to this.”