Hesston artist’s mobile art to be featured in Wichita galleries

HESSTON—John Waltner has returned to an old interest in his retirement years.

The former teacher said he took a lot of history courses in college, including some on art history. He ran across Alexander Calder, an American artist known for his innovative mobiles. Calder’s “Elements Demontables” is on display at 100 N. Broadway St. in Wichita.

Waltner said he was attracted to Calder’s works because they looked cool. He also said he didn’t “have any artistic ability. I can’t draw or do anything like that.”

Waltner read more about Calder and started tinkering with his own mobile sculptures. Building sculptures became a hobby, but he had little time while working and raising a family. After retiring as county administrator, time no longer was an issue. Some of the sculptures he created will be going on display in the coming months at CityArts and Mark Arts in Wichita.

Waltner said he crafted his sculptures out of sheet metal he purchases from plumbing suppliers. He cuts out individual pieces and grinds them down before soldering the pieces together. He uses auto-body putty to smooth out the pieces and then secures them together with metal rods.

It’s not very complicated,” he said. “It just takes time.”

A large piece Waltner created will go on display in the lobby at Mark Arts, 1307 N Rock Rd, Wichita. It measures about 10 feet in height and 15 feet across. He said it took him from 120 to 160 hours to make the pieces and get them balanced. He didn’t have room to hang it in his garage, but Dwight Erb graciously allowed him to keep it in a storage building in town.

Waltner said he arranged the three separate sections to draw a viewer’s eyes from one section to another. He painted the top pieces black to help define the more colorful segments.

I do this because it’s fun,” he said. “I really enjoy what I come up with. I know some people think it’s goofier than hell, but I kind of like it.”

Waltner said he didn’t have technical names for the different segments that occupy space on different planes. He just views them as separate elements of a composite that are held together by “connective tissue.”

Waltner has a bunch of smaller creations hanging in his garage. Some of those will go on display in June at CityArts, 334 N Mead, Wichita, in Old Town.

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