Seven Questions With Makers Monument Sculptor Mark Reigelman

Suzanne Goldsmith
Columbus Monthly
Sculptor Mark Reigelman II in front of his Makers Monument during its installation on High Street in Columbus, OH

Tuesday evening found New York-based artist Mark Reigelman II crouched on a Short North sidewalk, adjusting the angle of a spotlight—one of six—trained on his massive, newly-installed sculpture, Makers’ Monument.  Reigelman was trying to achieve maximum impact while also addressing the concern of a resident who had walked down the fire escape of a nearby apartment building to complain that at certain angles, the light shone into his home. The resident left, apparently satisfied, and the team began experimenting with colored gels.

It was a fitting final hurdle for a public project that has been four years in the making. The sculpture was commissioned as part of the recent High Street streetscape improvement project in the Short North, and its cost of nearly $500,000, funded through the City of Columbus Capital Budget and contributions from area property owners, was included in the budget of the $25 million projects, thanks to a “Two Percent for Art” commitment. Reigelman, 37, a Cleveland native, was selected for the project over more than 100 applicants, according to Lori Baudro, the public art coordinator for the City of Columbus’ planning department, and has adapted his concept over time through the local approval process.

Makers Monument during a lighting test, July 27, 2021

Reigelman’s prior public art projects include a bright yellow Quaker meeting house that’s tilted at a precarious angle among skyscrapers in Boston, a set of colorful aluminum boxes that blast snippets of rock music in Cleveland and a tapestry of cast-resin airplanes on a San Diego airport parking garage. He got the nod from the local committee because of his ideas, his experience with large installations and his energy, Baudro says. His winning proposal was to celebrate Columbus as a city of makers. “We may not have the manufacturing cred,” says Baudro, “but things were still made here.” That’s a point that may be relevant to Columbus' developing self-image as a city for entrepreneurs, creators and innovators.

The 20-foot, 7,000-pound steel sculpture is shaped like a series of elongated crystals, a reference, Reigelman wrote in his artist’s statement, to the “black diamond” coal communities of Southern Ohio that produced some of the raw materials for manufacturing in Columbus. Its surface is perforated with the repeated outlines of 50 unique items, ranging from sawblades to rocking horses, that represent some of the goods made here over time.

A closeup of the Makers Monument

The sculpture, which is located on the sidewalk near the corner of West Hubbard and North High streets, will be formally dedicated at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 7, and celebrated with several events during that evening’s Gallery Hop and an exhibition throughout August at the Brandt-Roberts Gallery. We interviewed Reigelman by email about how he created this work. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.

I think of Columbus as more of an information economy center than a manufacturing center. How did the idea for this sculpture evolve?

My process starts with an immense amount of research. I connect with historians, longtime residents and libraries in order to better understand the history of the site I’m developing concepts for. During my time exploring the stacks at the Columbus Metropolitan Library, I came across a 1910 Columbus Dispatch article titled “Made in Columbus” that highlights some of the thousands of items being made within the city limits—everything from artificial teeth and clothes racks to brass whistles and grave vaults. This absurd collection of goods, coupled with the volume in which they were produced, was so unique. It immediately refocused my interest to the city’s maker history and laid the conceptual groundwork for the Makers’ Monument. 

After discovering the “Made in Columbus” article, I did a deep dive into the objects being made in the city. I found additional texts like “A Hand Book of Made-In-Columbus Goods,” issued by the Retail Merchants Association of Columbus, which listed all of the product factories along with the names and addresses of the manufacturers and makers. I started investigating the specific objects created in different factories, crafting a list of hundreds of objects made in Columbus and then drawing little silhouettes of each in an attempt to capture the quintessential illustrative profile of each. The ultimate goal for this archetypal exploration was to find objects made in the past that would also be representative of things being made in contemporary Columbus. A bowler hat represents fashion, a saw blade reflects the area's woodworkers, while the DeLorean speaks to technology, past and future. 

Were you surprised by anything you learned in the process of developing this monument?

I was surprised almost daily. Either by an advertisement about dental parlors from the early 1900’s that would float to the surface in the library stacks, or by discovering a 100-plus-year-old brick sewer line running directly under the artwork, which needed to be inspected by a surprisingly adorable doglike robot. The surprises—incredibly sized cranes needed to position the artwork, the amount of cones and signs required to properly direct traffic, the amount of time required to fabricate the artwork, how easily monuments could topple, the fact that the first concrete paved street was completed here, or that one of the most iconic cars in the history of pop culture, the DeLorean, was assembled in Columbus—were endless.  

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of making this piece? How do you create such a large sculpture from steel?

The process for this artwork was intense! The pattern that creates the structural skin of the artwork was created over many months with the assistance of a computational designer. Together we created a series of algorithms that allowed us to disperse the various object silhouettes across the surface evenly, randomly and with a specific amount of overlap, all of which ensured we maintained a structural surface, since I didn't want anything on the artwork’s interior to interfere with the passage of light through the perforated surface. From there, we broke up the digital model into hundreds of individual digital faces that were laser-cut and bent to shape in the final artwork material, stainless steel. These stainless steel parts were then meticulously assembled over many months, with each artwork part welded to the adjacent facet until the final 20-foot-tall and 7,000-pound sculpture was complete. Once finished, the artwork was power-washed, treated, wrapped and secured to a flatbed trailer in preparation for the 1,900-mile journey to High Street. 

The Makers Monument arrives in Columbus, OH in June 2021

I read that during your Cleveland-area childhood, you were "the kid who opened a Magic-Marker tattoo stand in his front yard." Did your Ohio upbringing influence your development as an artist?

Ha! I’m sure it was a washable marker. I remember neighborhood kids coming to our backyard and waiting in line for my coveted tattoos. One by one, I would lay them down in my mother’s squeaky fluorescent lawn chair, still lathered with tanning oil, and get to work. I was also the premier designer for every one of my mother’s annual garage sale signs, which were placed all over the neighborhood. My Ohio upbringing definitely played a crucial role in my development as an artist, particularly in the way I think about fabrication and community. The Midwestern impulse to have casual conversations with strangers is basically the foundation of my entire practice. That engaging approach to passersby, coupled with the state’s array of incredible artisans, factories and supply facilities, were also mirrored in the household I grew up in. 

My father, a history enthusiast, craftsman and machinist, has an unparalleled work ethic, a strong desire to connect to history and a need to master every skill from construction to electrical wiring to fine carpentry and metal turning. My dad is also a talented artist, and the pencil drawings he wooed my mother with in high school (a collection of hair metal album covers and goblins) are my earliest frameworks for learning to draw. I redrew each and every one. My mother, on the other hand, with her eye for color, ability to arrange tchotchkes flawlessly on any shelf and her sometimes unhealthy compulsion for order, is a true artist at heart, though it is really her ability to connect with people that I try to mimic in my work. As a nurse, the joy she finds in getting to know her patients on a deep level is something I find totally awe-inspiring. 

My parents and my Northeast Ohio upbringing have absolutely shaped my career and outlook. Together they nurtured a weird kid and let him become an even weirder adult. Ohio will always be home. 

I have to ask you about your brash website, where the "About" page begins, "Quite simply, Mark Reigelman is a genius." The page asserts that you are extremely handsome as well. I suppose there is no role for modesty in today's art world?

Modesty is only well-worded arrogance. And I’ve confirmed with my mother: I am extremely handsome.  

When you are creating a piece of public art, is it "your" work, or do others play a role in its creation and authorship?

Public art is collaboration at its best. While I am the creative driver behind all of my projects, it takes a huge team of people to create each installation—project managers, city officials, review committees, structural engineers, lighting designers, site contractors, community members, conservators, crane operators, fabricators and many, many more. By the time a project is completed, often years after its initiation, hundreds of people have contributed to the process in some meaningful way.

What role do you hope your new work will play in Columbus' developing self-image as a creative city?

Columbus already has a strong history of making and a strong creative identity. My work is simply highlighting this rich culture of craftsmanship and paying homage to High Street’s position as a maker hub. My hope is that it will stand as a monument to the past and future of Columbus artisans.