Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
Recently, I had the great pleasure to speak with Leo Sewell, a self- described “junk sculptor”, living in the Philadelphia area. He was gracious enough to actually grant me the interview twice ! The first time, we spoke for roughly 2 hours, and only afterwards, I realized that my recording device had actually not recorded our conversation at all. So I had to ask him to do the whole thing over again, which he patiently did. Thank you, Leo !
Please tell me about yourself. What is a junk sculptor?
I assemble found objects into representational forms, and have done so for maybe 50 years, depending on how you count it. I seek out objects and inventory them, and then assemble them to make a sculpture. Mostly I make animals out of found things.
When you say “junk,” what kind of “junk” is that ?
Not garbage, junk. Colored objects of plastic, metal, wood and recognizable objects. Objects that have an ability to resist oxidation etc.
What about your background? I read you grew up near a dump, a junkyard?
Yeah, I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, near the Navy dump. They would throw things away, sometimes parts of boats and parts of airplanes. There were just fascinating objects for a young boy to come upon and then to find them, they could be yours.
I would take them home and mostly just take them apart, until my parents told me I should do something more than just take things apart.... I should build. It was not about art but more about Puritan (work) ethic.
So you must have been pretty young when you started creating these pieces ?
Yeah, at around 10 or 11 years old I was doing that, and my father was teaching me how to use a shop and simple tools. Even to this day, I just want to get my hands on and play with manufactured objects.
What did your classmates think about your hobby ?
I guess it was solitary. I wasn’t a solitary kid and I did play sports etc. with other kids. But, this junk thing was pretty much just mine. Even until today I don’t share much with people. Sometimes I have help, but I am sort of a one-man band.
You like to be by yourself when you get into your creative zone?
I think that is fair to say.
Did you grow up in a family of artists? What did your parents think about your taking things apart and reassembling them?
They weren’t artists at all. They were two people who lived though
the depression. My father, although he wanted to be an engineer, ended up teaching language at the Naval Academy, and my mother was mostly a home maker. Practical people, so there wasn’t really discussion on art going on. There was encouragement to follow my dreams and passions, so long as I wasn’t hurting others.