Sculpture Student Sends Message With Reclaimed Materials

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J. Thaddeus Lutz received the opportunity of a lifetime when he began his internship with Darla Jackson at the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym.

After the junior sculpture major took a 3D wood shop class with Ryan McCartney, he told McCartney that he was interested in trying to cast metal. That was when McCartney recommended that Lutz check out the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym.

“Eventually, he got in contact with Darla Jackson and he just asked her if she needed an intern,” Lutz said. “I started it, fell in love with it, and now I’m really good friends with Darla and it’s awesome.”

Lutz’s primary role at the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym is to help Jackson with creating her work and maintaining the shop. His work there also gives him access to their studios, equipment and scrap materials for his own use.

“We started off by doing blanket casts of these small clay sculptures that she made of small animals and stuff like that, and then we moved on to metal working. She’s all about animals,” Lutz said. “I’ve also helped out teaching a couple classes, they’re really involved with the Mural Arts Program, so we have high school kids come in and we teach classes.”

When he first began, Lutz was on winter break and was able to dedicate most of his time to the Sculpture Gym. Since the spring semester began, he has had to cut back on that time drastically.

“It’s three days a week sometimes for like ten hours,” Lutz said. “And I’ve learned so much and built such a great relationship with everybody and made connections…it’s so great and everyone there is so amazing and creating really amazing original work.”

Lutz first became interested in sculpture when he was working as a cold line cook at the Huntingdon Valley Country Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pa.

“We did a lot of banquets and things like that which required these very intricate cheese displays and fruit displays, and they all needed centerpieces,” Lutz said. “On my Tumblr page, you can see one of my fruit sculptures. I got into that [working] there. I pretty much received a knife set as a gift and I just started teaching myself.”

He decided to further his education at Tyler because he was living with two Tyler alums, Carl and Janice Marin.

“[Carl] was an alumni and he was a sculpture major and the work he was producing at the time was just absolutely amazing and blew my mind,” Lutz said. “So I lived with him and his sister, Janice, who just recently graduated and after hearing them talk about art and the kind of network that is in Tyler it just really made me want to do it and start pursuing sculpture more.”

Although Lutz started out with fruit sculptures, he has since moved on to working with clay, metal casting, and wood working.

“I don’t really like buying materials necessarily, I try to go dumpster diving a lot and finding reclaimed materials and things like that. So I’ll use anything as long as I can afford it or get my hands on it,” Lutz said.

When he creates sculptures, Lutz is inspired by his feelings on consumerism, poverty, and politics. When he first started making fruit sculptures, his intent was to comment on homelessness.

“I was hanging out with a lot of homeless people at the time, so my initial goal was to take fruit down to places like Rittenhouse Park and carve this fruit and then try to find a homeless person to give it to as a gesture, but none of the homeless people would take it,” Lutz said.

Instead of handing the sculptures out, he started setting them up in a street art style. Lutz would photograph the fruit sculpture and then leave, sometimes waiting around to see what reactions people had to his work.

“Where I grew up is the poorest county in Pennsylvania, so I guess poverty really influences me a lot and another reason why I use reclaimed materials is I have to remember where I came from,” Lutz said. “With the fruit, you know, it would decompose after a day or so and get thrown away. So now I don’t do that anymore at all. I can’t find it in myself to do it because I’m more concerned with sustainability and creating things that can be installed in a very similar way, but can last a while so a lot of people can see it and maybe try to understand the message.”

Lutz hopes that his work will trigger something deeper inside of his audience and will start a conversation to help influence the way that people look at the world and to make them want to make social or political changes.

“Small-scale, large-scale it doesn’t matter. I just want to evoke people to want to be better people or think about the way that they eat food, where their food comes from, things like that,” Lutz said.

For the month of June, Lutz’s first solo show will be at Atlantis: The Lost Bar in Philadelphia. The opening of his show will be June 6.

“It’s going to be called ‘Forgetting Rittenhouse’ because that’s primarily where I did the fruit sculptures,” Lutz said. “It’s to represent the flourish of my work like coming from that to now.”

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