The Commerce Journal

December 20, 2011

Dodd works wonders with steel and color

Caleb Slinkard
2011 Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — When Jerry Dodd was told he had to take a sculpture class in order to graduate during his undergraduate work at Central Michigan, he didn’t have the best reaction. Little did he know that the class would change the direction of his career.

“I was a ceramics major and all I wanted to do was make pots,” Dodd said. “I found it therapeutic and wonderful, and occasionally people would buy one, which I thought was very cool. In order to graduate, I had to take a sculpture class and I had a really bad attitude, but I had a wonderful teacher who sensed my attitude. He asked if I wanted to learn how to weld, and I said “if I have to.” At the time, they didn’t even have a welding studio, so we went to his studio. 30 minutes later I changed my major.”

The creative possibilities of metal were what struck Dodd so powerfully.

“When that metal started to flow, and you see that molten steel, you can see the possibilities,” he said. “Steel is so cheap and available. That was a life changing experience.”

After graduating from Central Michigan, Dodd traveled to Oregon to pursue an MFA in sculpture.

“I went to the university of Oregon, which was quite a jump,” he said. “I had never seen a mountain before. I drove out there by myself in a car with no radio. I must have been nuts.”

While at Oregon, Dodd met his wife Carol. After he finished his degree, they moved to upstate New York, where he worked at various institutions and she earned a masters degree in library science.

“I taught in junior colleges, private colleges and public universities,” he said. “I was an academic gypsy.”

A&M-Commerce offered Dodd a position at the university as an art professor, so he and Carol moved to the small Texas town in 1977.

“To come to East Texas is August was quite a shock,” he said. “It was 102 and trying to unload a U-Haul truck was brutal. The longer we’ve been here, the more it’s felt like home. Our son came along, I got tenure, we bought a house and we’re still here.”

After a few years, Carol got a job with the University Library, and they both worked at A&M-Commerce for almost 30 years, with Dodd retiring in 2006. The time off has given Dodd the opportunity to focus more on his artwork, which has evolved from his early years in college.

“Initially, I was fascinated with scrap,” he said. “I could make entire projects without buying anything other than a welding rod.”

As Dodd grew older and more skilled, his art evolved with him.

“As time passes, you become more sophisticated, you begin to see the appeal of manufacture things that are cleaner,” he said. “Manufactured steel has so much more potential than scrap steel. So much of that scrap has a history, and an identity that comes with them. But if you’re using industrial things likes pipes and tubing, they become much more abstract.”

Dodd began incorporating both manufactured and found pieces, and then discovered the potential that adding color brought to his work.

“Some of my pieces integrate both scrap and manufactured items,” he said. “I try to find a way to make it all go together. I discovered paint along the way because I got tired of all the rust. I began to use primer and paint, which opened a whole vast area of possibility of applying pigment to three dimensional form, which is really quite hard to do well and convincingly.”

Adding multiple colors to a three dimensional object became a goal for Dodd.

“I thought, ‘well surely I could do more with color,’ so I took that on as a personal challenge to see if I could do that to enhance and reinforce the form, and in some cases deny the form,” he said. “The color evolved and everything kept moving. Where this will go, who knows?”

Dodd’s artwork, which has been featured in galleries and shows across Texas, is unique it its size (often standing more than six feet tall) and vibrant primary colors.

His pieces, which vary in focus, reflect the connection his has with his art.

“I think there has to be a connection,” he said. “You wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t some personal bond with the process and the material. For me it was welding. The idea of permanently joining two separate things together forever, which gives you a sense of power that you can do that. Its one of the few things in life you can control.”

Dodd’s piece, the Blue Streak, is on exhibit at the University of Texas at Tyler until May 2012.