Studio Visit is a weekly Q&A with a local artist. Today, The News-Gazette's Melissa Merli chats with sculptor Geoff Chilton, 64, of Philo.
Q: When did you and Athan move to Philo from Urbana?
A: We lived in the People's Republic of Urbana for decades and moved here four years ago.
Q: How long have you and Athan been married?
A: Twenty-eight years.
Q: You worked as a machinist for many years, didn't you?
A: Machinist and welder. I've been welding for 42 years and a machinist for 38. I've had 17 jobs so far in my life.
Q: Are you retired?
A: Not yet. Four more months. I work part-time down in Tuscola for the Tewell Brothers.
Q: When did you start making sculptures?
A: I do a lot of everything. I've always been making things, since I was a kid, out of cardboard, balsa wood. Then I got into welding heavily. I took shop in high school (Urbana Class of 1967), but when people ask me, "When did you learn to be an artist?" I say, "Well, I learned in my mother's womb." I just like to play. I've always liked building things.
Q: What kinds of things?
A: As a machinist and welder, I've built hypodermic needles on a lathe and welded up frames of garbage trucks. There are a lot of things in between those two.
As far as sculptures, I was always good at math and geometry. So most of the stuff I do is geometrical. Every now and then, I branch out and do something silly, like "Phil'o Alien" out front.
Q: When did you start putting sculptures in your front yard?
A: A couple of years ago. I've had them hanging from my garage and trees for 10 years. The garage started getting full of head-knockers — sculptures that hang from the ceiling — so I started putting them out front.
Q: Have any of your sculptures ever been stolen from your yard?
A: Not in Philo. Philo's a nice town. People are friendly. There's no crime.
Q: What kind of materials do you use?
A: It's almost always steel.
Q: What kind of paint?
A: I used to have some of the pieces painted. But to get a real nice paint job, which I'm not capable of doing and it costs a lot of money, I have the pieces powder-coated. It's a lot more durable — virtually indestructible, really.
Q. Have you ever shown your sculptures?
A: Oh, yeah. I've been in a few art shows, and I think I did a Taste of Champaign about five years ago, and I did a farmers' market once.
I always get good reactions from people, that work is pretty original and creative. A lot of people aren't willing to spend the money on the sculptures because they don't understand the time that goes into these things.
That lantern above your head has 170 pieces and about 280 welds and about 30 hours worth of labor. Guys think it's really neat when they look at it and say, "I'll give you $150 for it."
I'm like, "No, I'm not going to work for $1 an hour. I'm sorry."
Q: Some of your sculptures sort of remind me of (Urbana sculptor) Roger Blakley's.
A: I met him a few years ago. I actually did some welding for him. I haven't seen a lot of his pieces.
Editor's note: For more on Chilton, visit http://www.geoffchilton.com.