Hays artist Willie Pfeifer will show a lifetime of work during Friday’s art walk on Friday, but the 91-year-old is excited about his new collaborations in sculpture.
Pfeifer began creating abstract wood sculptures in 1964 when he worked at the Hays Planing Mill. He still works several hours a day in his home shop, he said, and an inventory of his works about a year ago cataloged 582 sculptures.
About a year ago, Pfeifer was at a Rotary meeting when Fort Hays State University Police Chief Ed Howell invited him to tour the Center for Applied Technology and Sculpture. During that tour, he met Toby Flores, associate professor of sculpture.
“I invited him up to see the shop and invited him and the department head to see my sculptures and puzzles,” Pfeifer said.
“We started looking at his work and I said ‘Man, Willie, we need to get this work out of your studio. We need to have an exhibition.’ This has been a year-long conversation. We just needed the right timing,” Flores said.
That timing is Friday’s 35th annual Hays Arts Council Fall Art Walk. “Fascinating Forms: Six Decades of Sculpture in Wood and Metal” will open with a reception at 6 p.m. at the CATS Gallery.
If will feature a collection of Pfeifer’s wood sculptures and his wooden puzzles that visitors can interact with.
It will also include some new pieces cast in metal, part of his collaboration with Flores.
“I gave Willie some foam, blue insulation foam, and he’s cut this with the bandsaw and then we’ve cast some of his pieces in metal, so we’re kind of working together on that,” Flores said.
The FHSU professor has big plans for Pfeifer’s work — literally — for the just-opened Department of Art and Design building. He’d like to cast a 6- or 7-foot replica of one of Pfeifer’s works in iron to display there.
Flores and Pfeifer said they found they have much in common.
“We’re both makers. This is my expertise, and of course, this is his. We’ve just been trying to collaborate, work together, and it’s just been good ever since,” Flores said.
Flores said his students are also excited about the show and a planned lecture from Pfeifer.
Pfeifer himself was an art student at Fort Hays Kansas State College in 1946. He didn’t finish his degree, however. Three and a half years into his college studies, he was offered a full-time job at a good wage, he said.
“But right now I’m working on a doctorate from the school of hard knocks,” he said.
He first showed his sculptures in a 1970 juried art show at the Hays Public Library. The juror invited him to show his wooden puzzles in a show in Chicago.
“In four hours Saturday and three hours Sunday, I sold one suitcase full of puzzles — $572. Paid for the trip,” he said.
He put more work into his sculptures after retiring in 1993. He’s shown his work over the years, but he’s excited about Friday’s exhibition and continuing his collaboration with Flores.
“This to me, it’s professionally done. This gentleman,” Pfeifer said of Flores, “used his background, his training. I learned from him. When I’m around him, he gets me all enthused and I want to go cut.”
Flores said although Pfeifer’s works date back almost four decades, they are still very modern.
“I feel like this show is relevant today, but it was relevant also in 1970. I think the work is still good, but it almost takes you back in time,” he said.