Art in your backyard

From Vermont to Austin, sculptural artist David Stromeyer decorates the landscape with his behemoths of beauty

From Vermont to Austin, sculptural artist David Stromeyer decorates the landscape with his behemoths of beauty

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David Stromeyer and one of his sculptures Photo by Michael Graupmann
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Photo by Michael Graupmann
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Photo by Michael Graupmann
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Photo by Michael Graupmann
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Photo by Michael Graupmann
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Photo by Michael Graupmann
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Photo by Michael Graupmann
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Photo by Michael Graupmann
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Photo by Michael Graupmann
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In the Barton Hills Neighborhood just south of Zilker Park, an unexpected sculpture park rises up towards the sky between the houses on a dead-end street.

One of those houses — the uniquely angled and unmistakably painted one — belongs to sculpture artist David Stromeyer, a forty-year veteran of the art world. And the architectural works of wonder are just a few of his creations.

"I wanted to share some examples of my work that the people in the neighborhood could enjoy on a regular basis," he explains during a walk through. "They sometimes get too hot to the touch in this heat, but we have folks coming to enjoy them year-round. It's neat having it right next to my home because I get to see people directly engaging with my work."

That kind of interaction is a not the typical approach for most artists; but then again, Stromeyer is perhaps not like typical artists. For example, he's an avid car racer, he's a trained mime, he prefers life on the farm, and he does most of his own large-scale sculpture construction.

"I have — wisely or not — a lot of self-confidence and a strong can-do attitude. I do my homework, but at a certain point you just have to do it," he proffers as we examine one of his more complicated pieces that relies on exactly engineered wiring to remain partially suspended in mid-air.

"I love solving problems in my head, making the materials bend to my needs. It can be frustrating, especially with large-scale pieces, but figuring out how to make it work feels like an accomplishment every time."

A natural builder from an early age, Stromeyer reveals that he began his studies at Dartmouth College in the mathematics department, but quickly moved to the art department when he discovered his natural aptitude for hands-on problem-solving.

Asked to assist on a steel sculpturing project with a visiting artist who worked primarily with steel car bumpers, he soon developed a passion for twisting, reshaping and reconstituting the "powerful, directly expressive" material.

Soon, Stromeyer began venturing into other materials such as wood, concrete, plastic and plexiglass, always interested in combining and pushing these materials into unexpected purposes. "After you decide to make something. . .  you have to not make something else," he posits. "You have to figure out what's unique about your idea; and once you do that, you're on the right path to make it." 

"I generally start with a scale model since my designs are so complex. And then I'll take these light-gage steel plates that I can bend and shape," he lays out regarding his process.

"I just keep playing with it until I'm happy with it. Then I change hats and start asking the hard questions: 'Can I replicate this? Will it stand?' It's sort of like being a dress maker with patterns. I'm sure there are computer programs that can do that, but I guess I'm old school. Depending on the size of the piece, it can take anywhere from a month to a year."

After meeting his partner Sarah, Stromeyer also began experimenting with bold colors to evoke emotional responses with his work.

His take on their introduction: "There was a winter where I felt like I needed to get away from the heavy metal and I needed to shake things up. I was painting at the time, and I was using different muscles than I usually did when making sculpture; now I think it adds something tremendous. I like to think that's Sarah's influence on me."

The artist and his bride discovered a pastoral property in the largely untouched Vermont countryside with a 100-year old post-and-beam home with a separate workhouse about a quarter-mile away which Stromeyer uses as his studio.

"It's so different from our custom-built, very modern home here that every time we go back there we say, 'We live here?!' And then every time we get back here, we say, 'We live HERE?! They just couldn't be more different," he laughs.

In Austin, Stromeyer's sawdust and concrete-splattered workshop is located just a few hundred feet behind their Barton Hills home. Inside the expanded studio space, you can find the preserved scale models used by Stromeyer to plan out his initial designs as well as several smaller wood, plaster and concrete sculptures.

This summer, Burlington City Arts is mounting a large retrospective of Stromeyer's 40 years of work in and around the BCA Center in Burlington, VT. Viewers can experience some of his scaled works in the galleries as well as larger ones outside in Burlington's City Hall Park. Then the exhibit continues at Stromeyer's farm in Enosburg. "We'll have about 45 big pieces on display across a couple hundred acres. There are about five or six meadows and sculptures sprinkled out around them," he explains.

As for whether they consider Vermont or Texas their true home, Stromeyer considers his answer before speaking. "We're here [in Austin] half the year roughly, and we're in northern Vermont the other half. Much more of my blood sweat and tears have gone into that place. So that's 'home' even though this is where we officially live and love spending our winters."

Stromeyer attests that splitting time between two homes helps keep his creativity alive."Much of my winter in Austin is spent developing model concepts that I'll take back there where I have lots more space and I can make all the noise I want at my workshop. I get back there and just hit the ground running. I guess I'm still like every artist: I'm always on to the next piece."

After forty years, Stromeyer shows no sign of slowing down. He and Sarah will head back to Vermont during May and return when the summer heat subsides.

In the meanwhile, his sculptural mind puzzles will hold patient vigil at the home near Zilker Park until their creator again returns.