Sculptor and Manager of Orr Street Studios
JOB DESCRIPTION: I have two job descriptions. The first is to make the best art that I can. As manager of Orr Street Studios, my job is to turn the studios into a home for artists and the arts. I would like to see the studios become a haven for artists to gather and create art, and for people who love art to come see it and buy it to put in their homes.
YEARS LIVED IN COLUMBIA: 34 years (not consecutively)
ORIGINAL HOMETOWN: St. Louis
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: For 28 years I was a registered piano technician and owned and operated my own business. I was also the technician for the music department at MU for 18 years, during which time I tuned, rebuilt and maintained the instruments as well as tuned for concerts at MU, at the Concert Series and at other venues in Columbia. But my passion in life has always been for the arts. Since I was a kid I have always created in some way or another, in various forms—whether writing, making music or creating visual art. I turned to painting and drawing after our son was born and took classes in the art department at MU and painted for a while. It took me a while to match my skill set to my interest in art, however.
I started working summer jobs when I was a kid in factories and machine shops and developed an interest in tools and how things work. My mother was an artist, my father was a business executive, and there are cabinet makers, mechanical engineers and musicians on both sides of the family. I guess it was inevitable that I ended up using all those skills. I think making sculpture is the perfect fit for me.
A COLUMBIA BUSINESSPERSON I ADMIRE: It’s a three-way tie. Mark Timberlake for having the vision and ability to build Orr Street Studios and at the same time turn a blighted area of downtown into a vibrant home for the arts. Quite a contribution. Jennifer Perlow at PS Gallery for her good humor and positive, we-can-do-it attitude, which is responsible (along with her husband Chris’s) for Columbia having a first-rate art gallery. Frank Hennessy, who has run a successful music store for 35 years, enduring the ups and downs of the market and hanging on—and prospering when most people would have given up and gone home. Frank could retire, but why stop doing something you love?
WHY I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT MY JOB: I am passionate about sculpting because it is a fascinating blend of intuition, creation, intellect and hard manual labor. I am passionate about the studios on Orr Street because I love being around other artists and I want to see art take its rightful place in the make-up of Columbia.
IF I WEREN’T DOING THIS FOR A LIVING, I WOULD: Go crazy, stir crazy.
BIGGEST CAREER OBSTACLE I’VE OVERCOME: I was very good at my technical profession in piano tuning and loved the people I worked for because they were passionate about pianos and music in general. I liked the blend of art, hand and technology, couched in a semi-esoteric form of listening to sounds and organizing them so that people can make music with them. I also enjoyed the intricacies of pianos and their historical evolution, as well as making them perform at their peak. I was always gazing over the fence at greener grass, however. That “green grass” was, of course, creating art of my own. It was difficult to change from one to the other.
A FAVORITE RECENT PROJECT: Being involved with the building of Orr Street Studios, as well as building and designing the sculptural doors for the studios themselves.
WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS PROFESSION: People should know that artists are passionate about what they do and quite often want to do it badly enough to forego financial security and wealth. The chance of becoming wealthy as an artist is somewhere between slim and remote. But people should also realize that artists pour themselves wholeheartedly into what they do. That deserves respect no matter what the profession. People too often think of artists as weird misfits. I suppose that comes from us needing time alone to navigate our way on an undefined, uncertain path. Remember, though, that when historians take a look at the health and wealth of a culture, they always turn to the state of its arts. In some ways art is the fruit from the vine of all human endeavors.
WHAT I DO FOR FUN: Sculpture is fun to me, but I also love to play electric guitar (blues mostly).
FAMILY: I have been married for 29 years to Donna Checkett, who is senior vice president at Schaller Anderson, the company that recently purchased the Missouri Care Health Plan from the university. We have one son, Evan, who is a senior at Rock Bridge High School. They are tied for first place in my universe of favorite people.
FAVORITE PLACE IN COLUMBIA: Home, and also a place I go to on a certain creek in town to stare at the water and sit with the trees.
MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THAT I: Don’t really like singing all that much. Too much vibrato. I spent all those years with pianos trying to get clear, clean tones at the correct pitch. Singers too often try to waver and shake every note!