Found Art, Finding a Way Into the Heart of the Material 8

The Mad Assemblages of Sculptor Jes Sanderford

Pulling up to the home of sculptor Jes Sanderford, there’s an immediate sense of the unusual.

It’s not just the oil drums of sand along a daunting dirt road that hint at fringe living. It’s not the massive, breathtaking view of Mt. Sopris in your lap. It’s the totality of it all.

Sanderford’s boneyard, ubiquitous to rural properties, is right in one’s face, next to the parking tucked in the oaks. Myriad lengths and gauges of chain hang in order. Patinaed sticks of pipe, sheets of metal, bone parts, driftwood and industrial scrap are all organized and placed just so—so he knows what he has and where it is. There’s whimsy in the half-finished pieces waiting for another day, more time, or a new idea.

The passive solar home rising above it is built into the mountain. The mere fact of having to look up to see it creates a sense of awe.

Tiered gardens hold several sculptures that have calved off from the boneyard. From the patio, wide steps flow down to greet a guest. The gate, even the latch, is original. Everything you touch, everywhere you look, there’s art.

Soft music floats comfortably in the air like cottonwood fluff: Micah P. Hinson. Uncle Tupelo. Americana and roots, the kind of music that feels like the first slow sip of bourbon. Time slows. It’s always a peaceful place.

This home is people-sized; single story. On top sits a grassy roof, often bearing a dog, bearing a ball, urging you to play catch with her. The burnt-orange of the home’s single wall might raise some eyebrows, but here, in this space and this moment, it makes perfect sense.

It’s all wild and crazy and cool, like a scene from the ‘70s There’s even a serene, smooth, hippie of a wife and a ragamuffin child with a husky voice, running about, playing big. It’s family here. Chill time, sweet digs.

Sanderford’s work threads through home and land, mingling with creative touches from his wife and the primary color splashes of his child. It all gives rise to a sense of the mystical—not in some fairy tale way, but in a backwoods, back-in-time, intriguing way.

This must all be described to get a sense of Jes Sanderford.

He reads like any other Colorado-bro: good looking, rough at the edges, overtly athletic, alive. His demeanor is light and warm, but time and conversations reveal a mind and soul on fire, seeing and being in the world full-throttle.

“I’m from the hills,” he says, Carolina roots loading his accent. “We grew up outside of town. My parents were vegetarians.” He laughs as if to explain it all. “Mom would let us order whatever we wanted at restaurants, but then she’d say something like ‘How’s Miss Piggy taste?’”

“My mom had a wood shop; I’d always play around there. I’d make guns and stuff. Being raised by hippies, we weren’t allowed to have guns.” Even as he jokes, describing his mom and dad, you can hear the appreciation creep into his voice.

“She did really fine woodworking: furniture, picture frames. My dad is a scientist. He’s pretty creative too—and hilarious. He’s weird and eccentric in his own right. He always took [building stuff for us] to the extreme. He built us a zip line and it was like 300 feet! He pulled it tight off of a tree with his backhoe. We ended up putting a huge soccer net under it so we could live when we got to the end.”

“We asked for a [skateboarder’s] halfpipe, so he got these plans out of Thrasher Magazine and built us a 14-foot halfpipe. We were like 10 and 13 years old! We never were able to even drop in on it! We took it apart and reused the lumber to build a wood shop,” he says, shaking his head, laughing.

Recognizing a need for some expansion, Sanderford’s mom sent him west to the Colorado Rocky Mountain School. In the summers, he worked at Flying Dog Ranch. Mountain climbing fleshed out his days. “Anytime I went back home, I would break out the chainsaw, or find their junk piles and make stuff,” he recalls.

And he’s never stopped.

Much of Sanderford’s work defies definition; you can’t pigeonhole him. His sculptures are at turns odd, clean and spare, or some mad assemblage. “I rarely have a goal in mind,” he says. “If it starts to go in one direction, I just go with it, and I don’t care. I do it because I want some time outside, time with the welder. If I don’t like it, it sits on the junk pile a little longer. If I like it, I put it in my yard.”

Sanderford tends to work the spirit of the material, feeling into it, moving beyond its past use or its rusty patina. “I’ll really like the shape of something. Part of me knows it’s old and it’s cool, yes, but I don’t like to think of that too much, because if I use some incredible old yoke or old wheel that maybe should be preserved, and I’m turning it into ‘art’…”

That’s humility speaking. What makes Sanderford’s work fascinating is the new meaning and relevance to he brings to cliche. How cool is an iron hoop? There’s little magic aside from the romanticism we apply to it; nothing new is evoked. But consider—how wild is that twenty-pound steel ring floating at the heart center of bone wings? Or even more intense, how is that as a triptych, a series of three, floating in the wilds of nature?