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john bisbee nails it

According to John Bisbee, we all have some form of relationship to a steel nail, and the humble object is “emblematic of the potential to be anything”. Bisbee embraces that relationship, forging together hundreds of 2 inch brads and 12 inch spikes in his signature style of sculptures that could be studies in microorganisms – or not.  The Maine artist, who has been working with nails for more than twenty years, doesn’t offer explanation about the inspiration for his work, leaving it to the viewer’s imagination. NPR has the best selection of images from Bisbee’s collection and an audio story about the artist.  You can find them here.

Welded steel nails, John Bisbee

Slack, 12 inch nails

Each sculpture in his “Ton” series was created by welding together one ton of nails

I was immediately pulled in – first by the form, then the material, and finally by the man and his philosophy. When he is not alone in his studio making art, Bisbee teaches sculpture at Bowdoin College where his teaching style is more Pied Piper than academic, which is in my opinion, a concrete way to real learning.

Details of sculpture and a work-in-progress

Perhaps former student Ben Butler says it best when describing Bisbee’s influence on his career, “My being a sculptor came absolutely from working with John. His single biggest influence was in not teaching me how to make art, but in teaching me how to be an artist.” Read more about his teaching style in this article.

Helio, 12 inch nail spikes


“While he provides an environment in his classes in which it seems like anything is possible, he is also, plainly, very demanding. His students’ final projects are evidence of his success as a teacher. Their works push the boundaries of their chosen materials while at the same time maintaining an underlying and disciplined restraint. Clearly, these students have been required to think, and to think hard, while they are creating.” Alison Ferris, curator of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, speaking about John Bisbee

Rove, Plode and Stick, steel nails, forged

Read how a 5 gallon bucket of rusty nails saved his life in this article and watch him at work in this short video clip.

More about Bisbee here and here.

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