Pieces of the Past | Behind the Canvas with Jim Klein

“Sculpture is like archaeology: You dig in and you find something.”

— George Baselitz, German painter, sculptor and graphic artist.

 

Farmer with horse-drawn plow, ca. 1930-1939.

Farmer with horse-drawn plow, ca. 1930-1939.The Ohio History Connection SC 1425, AL00587 from the Agricultural Machinery Collection Collection.

The Klein family has deep ties to Colorado, and the farm where abstract artist Jim Klein calls home is no exception. The old farm has seen the advancement of settlers west, the Colorado Gold Rush, untold numbers of cattle, and generations of farming. Unsurprisingly, hidden treasures and remains of the lives before abound in the earth around the property. Jim has been discovering these treasures and crafting one-of-a-kind sculptures with his findings.

 

How did this creative and historical endeavor start?

Jim: Our old farm has been dated back to the 1850’s. It’s very old and historic for Colorado and even has ties back to the White and Plumb families of the Civil War. The farmhouse has a stone foundation and many stories. It seemed to be that every time the previous families would have children, they built an addition onto the house; over the years the layout has become like a maze. It’s also situated between two rivers. Stories around the property say that the local native population and fur traders would meet at this one enormous cottonwood tree, trading goods and exchanging news. During the Colorado Gold rush, cities like Black Hawk and Central City needed farms to feed the new populations, so this became a critical area for agriculture and cattle. It’s such a unique area and so full of history. 

cow hill hoe sculpture jim klein

Cow Hill Hoe by Jim Klein

Some time ago, two men who participated in metal detecting contacted me and told me there were records of a fort located somewhere on the property, they wanted to try and locate the remains. After spending some time searching, the men found a couple of metal pieces but the fort itself remained hidden. I figured there were more interesting things to find, so I set off to do some hunting of my own. 

We have a ridge on top of a hill on our property that we call Cow Hill because our cows enjoy grazing up there. That’s where I decided to start.

 

horse plow jim klein

Horse Plow by Jim Klein

What items have you discovered in your efforts?

Jim: Thanks to two centuries of farming, I’ve been discovering a variety of old objects and tools with my metal detector. We’ve found many interesting pieces: old horseshoes, a few arrowheads and it’s always exciting to find farming equipment. We’ve been able to identify a part of a garden hoe and chain links for what might have been from a sugar beet digger or perhaps a potato harvester. Recently we found parts of what looks to be from a horse-drawn plow. I shared it with my neighbor and he thought it might be some part from a horse-drawn wagon. We’re working on getting the pieces authorized by an antique dealer and getting a professional opinion. 

 I had been wanting to dive into sculpture for quite some time, and this provided the perfect outlet and materials. After gathering these interesting pieces, I weld them into an abstract sculpture and build a story around the artifacts to display in the gallery. The odder the artifact, the more interesting the story.

 

What sculptures have you created so far?

Jim: Cow Hill Hoe  is my first sculpture. Every part of the piece was found on Cow Hill on our property. Our best guess is the main part was part of a garden hoe or plow, used to dig sugar beets or other agricultural work. The middle piece we’re not sure about, and the long piece is a broken chain link.

The second sculpture is Horse Plow and its pieces are also a mystery. A neighbor of mine thought the main part was once part of an old horse-drawn plow. There’s also a spring tooth, from a spring-tooth harrow. (For the non-agriculturally inclined amongst us, this is a piece of farming equipment dragged behind livestock or horses, and uses iron teeth mounted in rows to loosen the soil before planting. More modern editions are attached to tractors.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “The Spring-Tooth Harrow.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 – 1920.

Our guess is the horse plow is antique and the springtooth may well be more modern. It’s interesting, you can see that the horse plow part looks like it was forged and beaten by a blacksmith because of the rougher texture; it doesn’t appear to be machine-made like the springtooth. We plan on getting the pieces authenticated.

 

Will you continue to create these limited sculptures series?

Jim: I plan to. It’ll be fun to see what other pieces of history turn up in the search. This has been such a fun project and it’s great learning as we go. Each sculpture is entirely unique and made of Colorado history.