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Making big stuff

Even in a gallery full of diverse mediums — ceramics, oil paintings, jewelry, textiles, wooden sculptures, just to name a few — Russell Lemond’s aluminum sculptures stand out.

Inspired by nature, architecture or simply the attributes of the material at hand, Lemond transforms basic aluminum sheets into hanging and freestanding sculptures with a signature holograph-like finish. Mobiles, skyscrapers and fish have been among his favorite subjects and can be seen in the art gallery of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in downtown Little Rock. 

Lemond is creating his largest freestanding work yet this spring. “Water as Needed” is one of 10 temporary, outdoor artworks selected for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Art in its Natural State regional competition. 

Aluminum is a lightweight material, so despite its size the sculpture only weighs 125 pounds. 

”It can be carried by two men,” he said. 

The sculpture will be prominently placed in the institute’s front lawn. 

Lemond said he was “tickled to death” to be picked for the Institute’s competition. “One thing I’m really happy about in being selected for this show is that [it includes] Arkansas artists. There is so much stuff around town that’s monumental stuff and it’s good stuff, but they’re not from Arkansas.”

Lemond has only been making aluminum art since 2004.

He graduated with a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 1978. He worked at IBM right out of graduate school and then spent about 16 years in medical equipment sales. 

Lemond became burned out on sales and was tired of being away from his wife, Karen, and their two young sons while traveling for work. So he left the sales world and went on to own a series of businesses over the next couple of decades, including a restaurant. He then worked for a nonprofit organization as a business consultant in the Delta. After the organization lost one of its major funders, Lemond lost his job. 

“My entrepreneurial blood runs thick, so I was like, ‘What can I do to generate an income?’ I’ve always had an artistic whim. I’ve always enjoyed drawing. I was pretty good at building furniture.” 

The idea of working with aluminum came from a trip to a boat shop with his father a couple of years before. “We pulled up, I saw all this shiny diamond plate and aluminum in their scrap pile and filed it away in the back of my head,” he said. 

When Lemond’s wife asked him to make two bedside tables, he returned to the boat shop with plans and had them fabricate the tables because he didn’t have the equipment to do so. With encouragement from family friends, Lemond began making furniture himself out of aluminum and diamond plate. 

He quickly sold his first couple of pieces on eBay. He still sells pieces through his own website, appropriately titled IndustrialLook.com

A distinct feature of Lemond’s pieces is the holographic-like swirl pattern, which he creates using a 3M bristle disc in an angle grinder. 

“The swirling came from cleaning up the metal, because aluminum is such a soft metal and scratches real easy, and that’s why I like it because it scratches so easy,” he explained. “I just go over it totally random with a bristle disc flat on it to make just a real matte finish. And then I’ll come back later and do the swirl pattern that I kind of pick out for the piece.” 

Lemond said he takes great pleasure in coming up with tongue-in-cheek names for his works. One piece, which featured sharp parts, he titled “Don’t Poke Your Eye Out!” 

The piece for Art in its Natural State will represent something that is growing, he said. “Being made out of aluminum, I called it ‘Water as Needed.’”

In addition to The Butler Center, Lemond’s work can be found at other Central Arkansas Library System properties. He created the decorative gates in front of the Ron Robinson Theater and a freestanding sculpture at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library

“Most people don't realize that a lot of these public art projects often take a year or more (usually) to complete,” said Colin Thompson, art administrator for The Butler Center. “Russell has good ideas. He's creative, willing to see a project through to completion and he is game to try something new.” 

Lemond creates his pieces in his workshop at his Little Rock home. His roomy-but-cozy workshop includes a variety of large and specialty tools. A plasma cutter allows him to easily cut curves and circles out of the aluminum. His decades-old stomp shear cuts or bends the metal in straight lines by using his body weight. 

His Miniature Dachshunds, Moe and Ella, pop in and out through a doggie door when the shop is quiet. 

As busy as Lemond is, he isn’t a full-time artist. Lemond started a plumbing inspection business in 2010. He said the business allows him the flexibility to continue working as an artist and the means to create the larger pieces. 

“I’ve reached the point now where I’m really starting to like making big stuff.”

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