Students Thesis and Letters  
_______________________________________________________________________________
Workshops and Lectures
IRA SHERMAN
Kirk Lang
History of Body Adornment
June 2, 2006

Ira Sherman Interview
In a strange way one might consider Ira Sherman a sort of modern day Renaissance man…with a twist.  Not only is Ira a world renowned
sculpture, he is also a jeweler, liturgical object maker, teacher, founder and chair of the Colorado Metalsmithing Association, and a
percussionist in a band called Los Lantzmun whose music is described as 'Jewish World Fusion'.  I was taken back by how many different hats he
wears.  Not to mention, he is highly skilled at each and every one of these activities.
Ira's work has been published in numerous magazines such as Metalsmith, Popular Mechanics, and Wired to name a few.  He has exhibited
widely throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Israel and Japan.  To compliment this, a couple of Ira's pieces have been acquired by the Spertus
Museum in Chicago, The Regional Transportation District of Colorado and the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of
American Art for their permanent collection.   
Ira was raised and schooled in Chicago, where his Third grade teacher was the first to recognize his artistic talent.  This talent, combined with a
kid who was notorious for taking his toys apart, was enough for his parents to support art lessons in hopes of diverting his attention from ruining his
toys.  Ira exclaimed, "Call my mother up right now, and she'll tell you about how I used to take apart every single toy they gave me.  They would
get real upset at me because it was much more interesting than playing with them.  And I still do that.  I take my kids' toys apart."  In addition to
this, Ira was exposed to mechanics early on by his father who was an owner of a metal fabricating machine company.     
As Ira got older and his interests broadened, his studies became more diverse.  In high school and college he began studying Biology and
Chemistry while taking art classes on the side.  Ira says, "I did have a really cool instructor in my last two years of high school who turned me on
to Picasso.  And I liked the idea that artists can do things that nobody else can.  And it gave me a subconscious identity."2  These aspects
would later influence his kinetic sculptures in his ongoing exhibit entitled "Panaceas to Persistent Problems" which has been added to and
exhibited for over 20 years.  When I asked Ira; In your words, what does it mean to be an artist?  He responded in support of this by saying, "I
believe it is the artists job to redefine what he sees and feels by melding and reassembling seeming unrelated materials and ideas.  The final
product or object, if successful, will make other people see and feel something new within themselves."
  Later in my interview I asked Ira, when and what prompted him to head out West.  He responded, "I was raised in Chicago and hated the place
as a kid.  (I really love visiting Chicago now).  The only time I ever saw a mountain was in the movies.  I came out to Denver, Colorado in 1971,
loved it here and never left.  It is a beautiful place to live and still enjoy an urban life.  I am still a city boy at heart."
Knowing that Ira lived in Colorado, I made it a point to see his work while I was at the SNAG conference in Denver.  In 2002, I had the privilege
of viewing his exhibition entitled, "Panaceas to Persistent Problems" in person at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo, Colorado.  When I
first saw his work in Metalsmith's annual Exhibition in Print issue, I became interested in his work.  Ira's featured object, entitled "The Arbitrator"
(fig.1) was one of many objects I observed at this particular exhibition in Pueblo.  I was astonished that the work was truly of the same quality
that I had seen in photographs.  Although his work is attributed as having an apparent sci-fi aesthetic, this was not what caught my attention
first.  Instead, I studied each piece from strictly a design standpoint and was very impressed by the flowing contours that seemed to echo almost
rhythmically throughout each of his pieces.  As I got closer to his objects and really began to inspect and scrutinize each individual part (as
most metalsmiths do, or at least should do!) I couldn't believe how well conceived the objects were.
The piece entitled "The Arbitrator" is designed to resolve a conflicting argument between two individuals.  "The Arbitrator" levels the playing
field.  It is described on his website stating, "…by forcing both parties to set and hold to a prescribed period of time to conclude negotiations,
look each other straight in the eyes, speak truthfully about all issues, record and document all terms discussed…"3 In addition to this, a timer
can be pre-set and as time progresses mechanically pressurized components literally "lock" both individuals into "binding arbitration."  If an
understanding is not reached by the end of this time period, Ira exclaims, "…a flood of ultra high pressure gas compresses both parties into the
sculpture making the need for future negotiations irrelevant!"4  In ironic contrast, Ira insists that his work is ergonomically correct and is
comfortable to the body.  When I asked Ira; what role does Psychology play in your work?  He implied:
The human mind has wonderful ways of rationalizing an individual's behavior.  Often we adjust to very absurd behaviors, become desensitized
to seriously dangerous environments.  We do this as individuals and as a society as a whole.  One of the best ways to pierce this strange frame of
mind is to use humor to disarm an individual so they see the truth in themselves.  I use a lot of humor in my artwork.

Although I don't readily see humor in his artwork, it is certainly lingering in the background.  It's not the kind of humor that necessarily makes you
laugh hysterically, but more the kind that instigates a soft chuckle with guilt, when you realize how extreme and arguably insane the
consequences are.              
These were the first and the last "sculptures" I've seen that were constructed with apparent attention to craftsmanship.  I put sculpture in quotes
because to me, they were clearly pieces of jewelry, just on a different scale.  I have two reasons for this.  The first is the fact that each piece was
crafted with great care and attention to detail.  Second, because they still directly deal with the body and when are in use, are a type of body
adornment.  To strengthen this point I asked Ira; how important is craftsmanship in your larger work?  He responded, "Very important.  I tend to
explore and redefine a mechanized world.  Superior craftsmanship gives my mechanized sculpture its bling."  It was peculiar to me that he
chose the word 'bling' because I would assume that the only person who would use such a term to describe their art would be a
jeweler.                    
Since I believe his sculpture is simply an exaggerated form of his jewelry, I inquired; at what point does a piece of your jewelry become
sculpture and/or vice versa?  Ira replied, "I have always considered all my work sculpture."  I then proceeded to ask, do you consider your larger
work jewelry?  Ira continued, "When making jewelry, I often think of myself as a little speck crawling up the inside of a ring…Like an explorer in
an alien environment.  Most of my brooches would make great public sculpture!"  
Continuing with this train of thought, I questioned him on how he balances his various art making practices.  Ira replied:
Art that earns me money, such as jewelry and liturgical metal work always takes a front seat to my more experimental work.  The fact is I need
money to live.  Once I have exceeded my monthly income requirements I quickly switch over to puttering with experimental ideas and
techniques.  I use the word puttering because it is in this state of mind, when I am just sort of wandering around the studio 'playing' with
materials and techniques, with no particular goals in mind, that I come up with the most satisfying ideas.

I continued; do you value each of these practices (jewelry, ritual object making, sculpture) equally?  Emphatically, he retorted:
NO.  Jewelry does indeed tap my lyrical and technical designs skill but I need to express more than just beauty and fine technique.  Liturgical
work allows me to use my skills as an artist to create beautiful objects with deep historical religious meaning and help me explore my own
relationship with God and human spirituality.  Working within the structure of religious liturgical design can be very limiting and I most enjoy
letting my mind wander past the limits of beauty and religion into the quirky world of human vanity, self-righteousness, and human frailty.  
People stun me with their limitless display of wonderfully beautiful feelings and then hideously evil behavior.  I enjoy symbolically using this
juxtaposition in my more experimental work.  Expressing these concepts in very well crafted mechanized metal is most satisfying to me.

In Ira's more recent work he has been exploring what he calls "Impenetrable Devices" that are in reality Anti-Rape Devices.  In one of these
pieces entitled "The Injector" (fig.2) two pneumatic syringes inject tattoo dye and sedatives into a rapist.  This also stops the sexual predator
instantaneously and permanently tattoos him for positive identification.  Another device uses surveillance equipment to monitor a possible
attack.  In sharp contrast to their function, their form is quite eloquent and seductive in nature.  Consistent with his larger work these objects are
sleek and streamline.  Although it is not apparent visually, conceptually they act as a metaphor.  As stated on Sherman's website:
…as a metaphor for the rape of our country by terrorists and our country's obsession to deploy every imaginable security device to thwart future
terrorist attacks.  It is inevitable that the rapist/terrorist if not repelled by one of Sherman's devices will at least return home seriously disabled.5  

Ira boldly exclaims, "I make devices that solve a social issue that can never be solved."6  He is of course correct, in an absurd kind of way.  
Which in my mind simply adds another intriguing layer to his work.        
Ira seems to have an over abundance of ideas from which he claims to never experience artists' block and he has more than two lifetimes of
projects that he will never even get too.  In addition to his wealth of ideas Ira also maintains a great deal of confidence for the future of our field
by saying:
I see a lot of very sophisticated metal art being produced and am pleased to see so many people making so much art.  This excitement is
tempered by a wave of conservatism in both the political and commercial world, however there still seems to be plenty of workshops and
symposiums to attend and learn more and more.  I am optimistic…in my crystal ball; I see plenty of great new work in the future.

To conclude my interview I asked Ira; do you have any words of wisdom for a young artist like myself?  He replied, "Figure out a way to make
money so you don't become a starving artist.  Starving artists make lousy art compared to well fed artists…after that make only work that comes
from your heart."  Words I shall live by in my near future.
Kirk Lang - History of Body Adornment
June 2, 2006

Joshua Zong - Student Paper
Penn State University
May 3, 2010

John Smith -  Student Letter
Carbondale, IL , November, 2006
John Smith - Carbondale, IL
November, 2006

Dear Magic Ira,

Thanks again for your time and efforts in Southern Illinois. I came away from the workshop experience emboldened to do a kinetic construction
along the lines of my own work.  You made the basic processes seem so understandable in the workshop setting. I, myself, have made knives for
26 years. I have seen a good many demonstrators who masked a step along the way for one reason or another. The end result was that the
unsuspecting student goes away confused and even intimidated. And, of course, the instructor is seen as possessing a certain mystical knowledge
that is ungraspable mostly. It takes some confidence to lay out the steps in an open manner. I saw that early on in the day. My best to you. Your
"art that disturbs" can not be the easiest genre in which to work. Not easy for you, nor for your audience. Aside from standing on its own stylistic
merits, it has a certain value to society in that it stands for something, something that can not easily be dismissed, nor comfortably approached.
The conflict residing between the stylistic elements of the piece, and the disclosure of society's failures is enormous. In that tension is the
excitement, it seems to me.... The work itself brings forth its own context very powerfully.
Looking forward to seeing more of your sculpture
. 'yer prairie pal, Smith
Joshua Zong
Penn State University
May 3, 2010


Ira Sherman
 An array of titles have been bequeathed upon Ira Sherman.  An artist, metalsmith, and inventor are a few.  Known for both his jewelry and
installation projects Ira has made many works over the decades.  As an aside, he states that his jewelry making skills are  "…what puts dinner on
the table."  (PSU Lecture 4/8/2010) His sculpture pieces labeled 'Impenetrable Devices' on the other hand make an impact on the public, as
they are functional works that may be 'worn' (but not really intended to applicably be adorned in public) by a person.  'Impenetrable Devices'
combine his metal and design skills alongside functional and aesthetically pleasing.  All of this streamlined into a subject that is an unfortunate
social truth worldwide is what makes 'Impenetrable Devices' such an impacting display to behold.
 After finding out that some people he knew personally  were raped at some point in their lives, Ira came up with the idea for 'Impenetrable
Devices'.  Asking those people if he should pursue the project, he went on to conduct interviews. The interviews were based around how they felt
about  the attack(s) and what they would like to have happen to the perpetrator(s).  (PSU Lecture 4/9/2010) From this data came sixteen designs
for functional anti-rape devices that are what I would describe as disturbingly alluring.  In this I mean that the 'curve-linear' designs are
aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and conform to the human figure elegantly, contrasted with the fact that they are rape prevention orientated,
connotes the very grim reality of sexual attacks which overshadows the project.
 As the interviewees had differing ideas, so then the various designs were born.  Each piece has its own focus that ranges between revenge to
prevention.  The 'Intimate Electric Fence' is designed to deliver an electrical shock to anyone who touches the two electrodes that are placed
across the groin area, falling more toward the protective category.  The common theme among the victims regarding capturing and identifying
the perpetrator spawned 'The Injector', which both debilitates via sedative injection and tattoos the attacker.   Flipper cam is more of a chastity
style prosthetic that will capture the potential rapists image.  One of the corset designs Ira created leans more towards the revenge of the
perpetrated by inflicting injury through utilizing a miniature version of the bear trap, from which it gleans its name.  Another example in the
category of revenge, aptly titled 'The Snare', is a belt styled device that ensnares and then viciously mangles the attacker with two sharp prongs.  
(http://www.shermansculpture.com/MechanizedSculpture.html)
 As cruel or torturous that these mechanical prosthesis appear, at the same time it is hard pressed to feel badly about the idea of a rapist
receiving a quick, non-judicial form of justice.  The reactions these sculptures while on display at galleries may also be extreme.  Some people,
as Ira observed personally, walk away visibly angry away from 'Impenetrable Devices'.  (PSU Lecture 4/8/2010) And understandably so, as
'impenetrable Devices' is a group of works that are very confrontational and charged with an array of emotions.  
         I had the ability to speak with Ira for a moment after a lecture and hold one of the works in my hands. I remarked how much lighter the
piece was than I anticipated to which he replied the opposite is normally the case.  As the quick discussion ensued Ira stated that it took
approximately one month of production to complete the device. (PSU Lecture 4/8/2010) So if we use that as a guideline of how long of a
timeline it took to complete the collection, we are looking at almost a year and a half of dedicated work.
 Considering the intensity of issues surrounding the notion of rape and the length of time he vested into such a project, Ira has since moved onto
other more light hearted work that involves the idea of toys playing with us.  (PSU Lecture 4/9/2010) This appears a smart move for anyone who
for an extended length of time mentally involves oneself with such a disconcerting topic.  At the same time we should consider the role of the
artist, not just to design something elegant or beautiful, but to inform and question.  This takes integrity and patience, both of which you will find
in master artist Ira Sherman. Ira Sherman
 An array of titles have been bequeathed upon Ira Sherman.  An artist, metalsmith, and inventor are a few.  Known for both his jewelry and
installation projects Ira has made many works over the decades.  As an aside, he states that his jewelry making skills are  "…what puts dinner on
the table."  (PSU Lecture 4/8/2010) His sculpture pieces labeled 'Impenetrable Devices' on the other hand make an impact on the public, as
they are functional works that may be 'worn' (but not really intended to applicably be adorned in public) by a person.  'Impenetrable Devices'
combine his metal and design skills alongside functional and aesthetically pleasing.  All of this streamlined into a subject that is an unfortunate
social truth worldwide is what makes 'Impenetrable Devices' such an impacting display to behold.
 After finding out that some people he knew personally  were raped at some point in their lives, Ira came up with the idea for 'Impenetrable
Devices'.  Asking those people if he should pursue the project, he went on to conduct interviews. The interviews were based around how they felt
about  the attack(s) and what they would like to have happen to the perpetrator(s).  (PSU Lecture 4/9/2010) From this data came sixteen designs
for functional anti-rape devices that are what I would describe as disturbingly alluring.  In this I mean that the 'curve-linear' designs are
aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and conform to the human figure elegantly, contrasted with the fact that they are rape prevention orientated,
connotes the very grim reality of sexual attacks which overshadows the project.
 As the interviewees had differing ideas, so then the various designs were born.  Each piece has its own focus that ranges between revenge to
prevention.  The 'Intimate Electric Fence' is designed to deliver an electrical shock to anyone who touches the two electrodes that are placed
across the groin area, falling more toward the protective category.  The common theme among the victims regarding capturing and identifying
the perpetrator spawned 'The Injector', which both debilitates via sedative injection and tattoos the attacker.   Flipper cam is more of a chastity
style prosthetic that will capture the potential rapists image.  One of the corset designs Ira created leans more towards the revenge of the
perpetrated by inflicting injury through utilizing a miniature version of the bear trap, from which it gleans its name.  Another example in the
category of revenge, aptly titled 'The Snare', is a belt styled device that ensnares and then viciously mangles the attacker with two sharp prongs.  
(http://www.shermansculpture.com/MechanizedSculpture.html)
 As cruel or torturous that these mechanical prosthesis appear, at the same time it is hard pressed to feel badly about the idea of a rapist
receiving a quick, non-judicial form of justice.  The reactions these sculptures while on display at galleries may also be extreme.  Some people,
as Ira observed personally, walk away visibly angry away from 'Impenetrable Devices'.  (PSU Lecture 4/8/2010) And understandably so, as
'impenetrable Devices' is a group of works that are very confrontational and charged with an array of emotions.  
         I had the ability to speak with Ira for a moment after a lecture and hold one of the works in my hands. I remarked how much lighter the
piece was than I anticipated to which he replied the opposite is normally the case.  As the quick discussion ensued Ira stated that it took
approximately one month of production to complete the device. (PSU Lecture 4/8/2010) So if we use that as a guideline of how long of a
timeline it took to complete the collection, we are looking at almost a year and a half of dedicated work.
 Considering the intensity of issues surrounding the notion of rape and the length of time he vested into such a project, Ira has since moved onto
other more light hearted work that involves the idea of toys playing with us.  (PSU Lecture 4/9/2010) This appears a smart move for anyone who
for an extended length of time mentally involves oneself with such a disconcerting topic.  At the same time we should consider the role of the
artist, not just to design something elegant or beautiful, but to inform and question.  This takes integrity and patience, both of which you will find
in master artist Ira Sherman.