Today we’d like to introduce you to Albert T. Scherbarth.
Albert, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up in a rural farming community in Nebraska, lived on the edge of town on an RFD route. We lived on top of the hill; when I looked out to the west, there were sheep and cows in the distance. My mother took care of us when my father, a welder, died tragically when I was seven, leaving my mother to care for my two sisters and me. I never knew we were poor until later. I mean it’s not like we lived in a dugout with cows grazing on our grass roof like my ancestors on the treeless prairie of western Nebraska. We weren’t rich but we always seemed to have everything we needed from our large garden. We canned vegetables, had apple trees and fruit trees. There was plenty of fresh air. I ran around half naked in the summer turning brown dreading September when I had to cram my toes into shoes for school. My mom would buy secondhand clothes from other families in town–which she patched all the time. It was stuff I would “grow into.”
I was always the artist in school, always drawing, although I think my sisters were much better artists than I was when I was a kid. I was the fastest runner in the county, loved to play football, spent wonderful high school years making art, running track, playing football. We won state! But I always knew I was going to do something else. Especially after spending the summer in Interlochen ,Michigan where I met kids from all over the world; talented young people. I got my BFA in printmaking at the Kansas City Art Institute. Spent two years in far western Nebraska as an artist-in-residence with the National Endowment for the Arts, where the snow stayed on the ground for three months and never got above freezing. I needed to go south and so came to Texas to graduate school at University of Dallas for printmaking, specializing in color lithography. I got my MFA in 1981. I was pretty weary of academia and Dallas was booming. I felt I needed to do “real” work like my father did to get the whole art school thing out of my system. I loved building so I jumped into working construction, gradually working my way up from a laborer to hanging sheetrock, then from carpentry to working in a cabinet shop. I got fired from my last job around 1982 when my boss said, “Man, you need to get your own place.” So I did.
I moved into the Cedars area of Dallas in the early 80s. That was the time before crack cocaine and homelessness wasn’t yet a problem. We just had prostitutes. It was rough and cheap and it was great. I fell in with some real energetic and talented fellows, sharing a shop for a while. Then I moved out to Deep Ellum and I was the first artist in the Continental Gin building which now has I think 50 artists in there. A bunch of my friends were buying buildings back in the Cedars which transformed into kind of a burgeoning place, and which has since become crazy cool. I managed to purchase a building in the 90s and make my studio and home down here in the Cedars. Through the years I worked making furniture and then got back into painting; painted giant, pretty flower paintings. Had a lot of success with that. Opened a print shop with an etching press, then started building furniture. I was always drawing. Bought this building I live in and got into fused and cast glass and also spent some time casting concrete countertops. I was lead monkey on the large bowler hat here in the Cedars.
Along the way I taught at Arts Magnet in Dallas, Brookhaven College, Northlake College, University of Texas at Dallas and the Creative Art Center, mentoring a slew of young men and women through the years, many of which are very successful artists today.
Over the years I’ve shown my work: drawings, paintings, sculptures in various galleries around town. I left my last gallery in the early 90s, striking out on my own. I’ve fared well, at least making a living. A few years ago, I got back into working with steel a little more seriously. I’m not a really a good welder but I have a welding machine and a bunch of other metal-working tools. Now what I find myself doing is combining the linear aspect of drawing with structures. I work with various builders, designers and architects constructing screens, fences, furniture and sculptures–things that are more permanent. It’s like having three-dimensional lines in space.
We developed quite a nice little shop here in a nearby location. It’s a communal situation with about eight artists who all have their own private spaces: a couple photographers, an upholsterer, cabinet maker, furniture maker, sculptor, amazing steel worker. We have an artist who does porcelain enamel and, of course, my welding shop. We have a flexible area in the center that is 2,000 square feet for various larger projects and 24-foot ceilings. It’s a metal building, concrete slab, dock height. We don’t have many walls so we can appropriate visually the whole space. It feels like you’re in a giant warehouse of your own. We call it Cosmi-tiki, Tiki for short. The former artist Keith Turman who worked here had a business called Cosmic Workshop. My friend, the owner of the building, Doug Caudill, has planted two catamaran pontoons out front, makes me think of Kon-tiki, the book and craft, like giant bookmarks for an entrance gate.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has been not a smooth road, however I’ve been fortunate enough to get attention, scholarships and grants to get through school. I had talented people around me to help me make some things that I couldn’t figure out.
Money has always been an issue of course—and having the right tools. Years ago, a friend of mine bought me an hour with a psychic. Most of what she said was pretty applicable to anyone, but I did take to heart something she said:
Life has been tough for you and will continue to be difficult in the future. You will struggle, but you would not want life any other way. I had to agree, I enjoy working hard. She also said I had a spirit guide and it was my father. She said: He’s right beside you right now. I can feel him and I can see him.
I liked that idea.
I’m constantly looking for more meaning and more permanence in the work that I’m doing. I’ve been very, very fortunate to get a lot of really great commissions over the years. I’ve sold a lot of work and fallen into great studio situations–large spaces, cheap rent and wonderful landlords. Today, I think my ignorance of all the pitfalls ahead allowed me to storm through life and I have a certain stubbornness, a dogged determination to succeed. I have had the dubious distinction of being fired from pretty much every job I’ve ever had, which made me realize that I needed to take control. I needed to be the boss and hire and fire other people. My grandfathers died before I came of age, my father died, my favorite uncle died so there was not much in the way of male guidance or perspective on how to be a man, so I’ve just kind of made it up on my own, stumbling through, winging it and I’m still alive, amazingly enough.
Scherbarth Steel – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Scherbarth Steel does custom furniture, privacy screens, big sculptures, fences and all sorts of cold-forged and welded together metal. I did a giant wine tree for Fleming Steakhouse in Frisco a couple of years ago. I have a sculpture named, “Cecil, age 12” up on Henderson and Capital in Dallas. It was one of the finalists last year for the Henderson Art Prize (HAP).
We make security doors, burglar bars, conference tables, shelf units, coffee tables, etc. We do commissions and speculative pieces as well.
I’m proud that we have a high standards and we deliver. We work with other professional artists in Dallas and around the country
Developed, built and installed an entire office for a design firm around the corner, Peterson/Ray. I’ve got a cadre of independent contractors–very talented folks who I can call in to flesh out a crew or whatever is needed, real welders. Dallas is a great place to come to work; there’s no end to the subcontractors doing plasma-cut, laser-cut, painting, powder-coating, designing things, delivery of steel parts. It’s a good work city and there’s alot of money in this town. We’ve got accessibility to materials and a can-do attitude. What sets us apart is that I design things that I’ve never seen before. I try to be imaginative and strive to be ahead of any trend or buck the trend. I see what’s out there as much as I can and try to do something just a little.
Who else deserves credit – have you had mentors, supporters, cheerleaders, advocates, clients or teammates that have played a big role in your success or the success of the business? If so – who are they and what role did they plan / how did they help.
Of course, my mother, who was a very, very strict, strict German hausfrau. You could literally eat off the linoleum floor. Very clean, very stern disciplinarian. We walked to school. She pushed us really hard to get good grades and not be a delinquent.
I had an awesome, awesome art teacher in high school, Mrs. Harmon, who gave me half the art room and encouraged me to just work, work, work and got me in all the summer camps. She helped me get into Kansas City Art Institute. I got a great full-ride scholarship and work-study. Just imagine having 500 of those really talented artists from high school and the challenge of distinguishing yourself. It was an impetus to do my very best and to identify myself. U of Dallas was awesome. It was a great facility and a beautiful place. It’s an oasis in Dallas, in Irving, designed by O’Neill Ford. Just a wonderful place. People who allowed you to succeed or fail on your own. It’s got grown-up, great teachers.
The folks at Elm Development with the Continental Gin, where I had a 6000 square-foot studio for almost nothing for over 17 years. It allowed me to not worry about rent so much and concentrate on my work and my business. Plus, I’ve had amazing clients, just amazing clients that believed in what I’m doing and allow it to be unique.
And really good dogs…