On our way from Atlanta back to Highlands, Gil and I stopped to visit Al Garnto at his studio/home/sculpture garden in Blairsville, GA.  Al is a North Georgia mountain guy, born and bred, and he is also an alumnus of the Atlanta College of Art (now part of SCAD).  I was first introduced to him at Steve Slotin’s FolkFest by a fellow art collector, John Denton.  His specialty is outdoor sculpture, but he also does beautiful work in collage, incorporating architectural remnants from old buildings and found objects from the buildings’ environs.  They are meditations on place and memory in the rural South.

A collage of the Union County (GA) Courthouse, incorporating tile discarded when the building was renovated.
another collage--Al says this one is about his dyslexia.

Al has small versions of some of his outdoor kinetic sculptures in his yard, but the biggest display of them can be found at Meeks park, just a couple miles from his house in Blairsville.  Here’s my favorite one, Country Calder.  It’s all made of reclaimed materials like barn wood and rusted sheet metal.

Al and Gil standing in front of "Country Calder," with Al's highly decorated studio in the background

He uses mostly recycled materials in his sculptures.  His latest project involves salvaging bicycles from anywhere he can find them and creating sculptures out of them.  Some of them are inspired by taxidermy:

Some are just inspired by bicycles:

More indoor sculptures:

All the plaques in the background here are probably from Al’s illustrious athletic past.  He is a former tennis pro, and he ran track at the intercollegiate level.  His studio is full of trophies.  I think he also may have been a competitive swimmer?  He and Gil were talking about swimming a lot.  How I ended up surrounded by jocks like this, I will never know.

Al Garnto sculpture Zen Piece
"This is just a Zen piece. The owner can rearrange the rocks any way he likes

I wanted to buy this little one off of him, but he wouldn’t part with it:

Al Garnto small sculpture

He did let me buy this one, to which my mom instantly took a liking, having no idea who made it or where it came from.  She just walked over to it, picked it up and said “What’s this?”  I told her Al Garnto made it and she held onto it. “It’s intriguing.”  That is always a good sign.

Here’s another little gem in his studio, a mock-up for one of his large outdoor pieces:

There.  I have maxed out on blogging.  I have about one hour before my patience for uploading photos runs out.  I am hoping to get two of Al’s big outdoor kinetic sculptures, including Country Calder, installed outside my gallery in Cashiers.  Al’s advice on dealing with the authorities on this issue: “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.”