Studio Visit #1: Joe Malin
On Thanksgiving Day, 2007, I took a tour of Joe Malin’s garage-turned-studio for the inaugural DESIGNOJEK studio tour. Joe lives and works in Plainville, Kansas, a small town about 80 miles from the geographic center of the United States. He was born in a farmhouse his father built right on the outskirts of Plainville and has called Kansas his home all of his life. After retiring from a career on farms and oil fields, he put his welding skills to work again and started creating sculptures made from scrap metal, bolts, nuts and various other items lying around his shop. Although not formally trained as an artist, he creates wonderful pieces of folk art that have immense character, meticulous attention to detail, and fascinating historical significance. Also a modest man, he chuckled when I called his work space a “studio” and would likely correct me if I called him a “sculptor”, but his love for what he does and the care he puts into his wonderful pieces makes him as much of an artist as anyone.
Joe’s studio is set up in his garage and contains just about every tool known to man. Some of them are quite old and some he made himself (like the vice on the table).
I’m so envious of his drawer of parts!
Many of the racks for his tools he made himself and even they have a lot of character to them.
This is the type of wire that is used for most of the pieces.
For the most part, Joe works on a fairly small scale with most of the pieces ranging from 5-12 inches in height. It’s amazing how much emotion can be conveyed through a washer and some wire.
Being a native Kansan, Joe has a real interest in western imagery which is one of the main themes throughout a large part of his work.
This is a replica of a windmill, similar to the one he had on his farm as a child.
Like the windmill, most of his machine sculptures have moving parts.
Of course, not all of his work is based on western iconography. His work also reflects a vast range of other historical periods.
This is the ship Endeavor from the 18th century and is amazingly detailed.
This is the Wright Brother’s airplane with Wilbur in the pilot’s seat.
A working trebuchet from the Medieval period.
Lots of great replicas of antique tractors and trucks.
Joe has also made some pieces for his home including picture frames and furniture.
Joe’s largest piece is a tribute to his childhood hero, Roy Rogers. This life-sized figure is constructed out of oil field pipe and sheet metal from large oil barrels and he actually has a skeleton underneath the clothes. He created Roy when he was living right off of the highway and he wanted him to wave to the cars passing by. Now he greets everyone that comes up to his home!
I’d like to thank Joe’s granddaughter Jenny for her help with filming the video clip and, of course, a really huge thanks to Joe Malin for showing me around his studio. He is an amazing person and his work is very clever and truly special.