IRA SHERMAN STUDIO VISIT
Ira Sherman is an extraordinary artist and metalsmith: a master jeweler, internationally recognized
sculptor, designer, intuitive engineer, and more….a modern artistic wizard. He lives with his wife
Nancy and two sons in a converted duplex house which is tucked away in a unique, early 19th
century Denver neighborhood that is home to many artists.
The boundaries of his workspace extend beyond his doors, into the neighborhood. In order to
understand the current nature and full scope of his studio, my visit began with a walk up the street
to his latest creation, a monumental sculpture for the Denver Light Rail (RTD) at the Louisiana
Street station. The Stange Machine, (named after a close mentor and collector of his work) is a
beautiful, kinetic sculpture which symbolizes the sophisticated technology of the RTD system.
Suspended over the platform, the Stange Machine is a dynamic, interactive construction of 1500
pounds of structural stainless steel tubing bent into a graceful and complex, moveable sculpture.
Incorporating abstract curvatures reminiscent of the moving human form, locomotive wheel patterns
and movement, as well as some of the actual components of the rail system, the sculpture can be
set into smooth and graceful motion by applying rotational pressure to a large steel orb at its base.
A series of ball bearing assemblies in fixed collars attached to curved arms connecting sections of
the sculpture facilitates this feat. Highlighting the curved lines of the abstract wheel forms is a
continuous line of brilliant blue LED lighting imbedded in flexible polymer tubing. Ira sees this work
as "the largest piece of jewelry" he has done so far.
For those familiar with his previous work, such as the series, "Impenetrable Devices" recently shown
at the Ornamental Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, the Stange Machine seems to be a logical
progression for an artist who has an amazing array of technical skills at his fingertips. When asked
how he could possibly know how to construct such a large and technically complex piece as this
most recent work, Ira simply says that he is a self-taught engineer with intuitive understanding of
how things work. Indeed!
Seeing and participating in this newly unveiled, interactive sculpture enabled me to fully
comprehend what I was about to see. "Studios" is a more apt description of Ira's workspace, a
labyrinthine succession of well-equipped rooms which are dedicated to specific functions. In what
was once a living room of the duplex, a massive jeweler's bench is fitted with workspace for two
people. Incorporated into the bench, below the level of the top, is a powerful ventilation system. In
the area surrounding the bench, every available space is well-utilized. Adjacent to his jewelry studio
is Ira's music studio, a small cozy space where he releases the tension of sitting at the bench by
playing the drums or by taking a short rest on the mattress below a beautiful stained glass window.
Just past the jewelry studio is a nearby closet which is packed from floor to ceiling with cross
referenced wax models, each in its own display box. Continuing toward the back of the house, the
design studio, with a large drafting table, computer and light box enable Ira to design architectural-
scale projects. Along the walls of the room are additional well-labeled storage areas, a ventilated,
heavy-duty polishing motor and lapidary equipment. An important niche in this area of the house is
his wife Nancy's embroidery studio.
Many of Ira's sculptures have moving, functional parts. For this aspect of his work, Ira is also an
electrician (self-taught, of course). An array of wires and small parts reveal his self-confessed
tendency to "take things apart". Even as a child, he was interested in dismantling toys to see how
they functioned. It is no wonder that a "Furby" is a component of many of his works, including the
"Stange Machine". Readers may remember the Furby as an obnoxious little robot toy which could
converse with its owner until it (or the owner) fell asleep. Ira actually uses the Furby's internal
computer to animate and interact with many of his sculptures' movements. His ability to incorporate
both pneumatic and electronic assemblies is truly beyond the scope of most sculptors and
metalsmiths. Not surprisingly, Ira offers workshops in these skills.
Just beyond the electronics room, the innermost studio is a fully-equipped casting area where he
alloys his own metal and produces one-of-a-kind, custom jewelry. As with all of the other work
areas, Ira has built an efficient ventilation assembly into the system. His design skills are evident
As might be expected, the garden in back of the Sherman's house is itself a work of art. A Zen-like
environment, in which every corner is an intriguing and well planned space, the garden is a
peaceful respite connecting studio spaces. Just beyond this quiet retreat is Ira's massive machine
shop where he has every conceivable large-scale machine, many of which he has made himself.
His technical abilities are mind-boggling. Here, Ira can be a blacksmith, a structural engineer, a
machinist… in short, a mechanical genius. No piece of metal is considered scrap, rather, material
for a "future sculpture". Many "scraps" weigh more than I could even comfortably lift. This huge
space is filled to capacity with so many large machines that Ira has started to fill a second building
with large tools, such as the seven foot tall, fifty pound trip hammer which he made in a
blacksmithing workshop in Salt Lake City. In such workshops, Ira occasionally works with other multi-
talented metalsmiths to produce large-scale tools for which they draw lots to decide who brings
It seems as though there is nothing to limit that which Ira can make with his multiple, intuitive and
practical skills. He sees himself as a "problem solver". This is reflected not only in his own practical
needs as a metalsmith and sculptor, but in a more philosophical bent. His series of small sculptures
"Panaceas to Persistent Problems", as well as his anti-rape devices ("Impenetrable Devices")
artfully and humorously address such everyday issues as aggression, desire and quest for beauty.
Whether the problems are truly solved (many of them will always be with us), Ira Sherman brings
new meaning to the word "panacea". His solutions amaze us in their ingenuity, sense of humor and
formal exquisiteness…..with a little bit of magic.
Metalsmith Magazine, 2007