Jeff Kreitz stood next to one of his metal sculptures as he spoke at Chautauqua in Crosslake June 13. Kreitz, owner of Creative Steel Work, Inc., creates both functional and artistic metal work.
Jeff Kreitz defines himself as a second-generation metal artist creating anything from the practical to the abstract and whimsical. His sculptures include such creations as an angel with a 16-foot wingspan to hang on a church, and a life-size bronze statue of a woman, not cast but actually made of many pieces individually welded together, creating details like hair and eyelashes.
Many people might know Kreitz from the metal moose that stands at the edge of the trees on County Road 11, or from the fiber optic cable sculpture outside Crosslake Communications.
Kreitz, of Breezy Point, was featured in the Chautauqua program in Crosslake on Wednesday, June 13. He explained his process and his history, and shared pieces he'd made with the audience.
Kreitz grew up watching his father weld and his mother paint, two things to which he credits his career choice. His passion for metal work was also influenced by the material itself.
"I always liked railroad tracks. I always liked metal," Kreitz said simply.
Occasionally Kreitz will add a chemical to the metal to add a certain patina to his sculptures or use tools to create texture. Still, Kreitz allows the natural colors of metals to show in his pieces.
"They are the colors of the earth," Kreitz said of the metals he uses, which include bronze, stainless steel, aluminum, titanium and copper.
He explained that he starts his creative process with a sketch. For large sculptures, Kreitz often makes a smaller version of the final piece, which makes it easier for clients to envision full-size.
Kreitz's sculptures take an immense amount of man hours. The moose that sits on County Road 11 took around a month. A small, solid bronze songbird used in one of his sculptures took 40 hours.
He explained that each of his welds is critical to the final product, and one bad weld could end his career.
In the case of the angel, if any weld broke and a piece of the sculpture fell, the consequences could be disastrous. Because of this, Kreitz takes extreme care in assembling his sculptures.
One of Kreitz's creations is a chicken, commissioned by the late Loyl Stromberg for a poultry museum. The chicken is made up of hundreds of small pieces of metal welded together. Each piece had to be smoothed out so museum visitors can touch the sculpture without any worry of burrs.
The chicken is modeled after a specific breed, a white-crested Polish chicken. Because Stromberg had a passion for poultry, it was important Kreitz create an accurate representation of the bird.
Kreitz said his work is 98 percent commissioned. Very little of it is sold off the shelves of his workshop, though he does have a few pieces made that he's currently selling.
While much of his work is sculpture, he also creates many pieces that serve more practical purposes, like range hoods, fireplace doors and fences. Artistic pieces alone do not support his business.
"You've got to put desperation in with inspiration," Kreitz said. "I've got a family to support, employees to pay."
Kreitz believes the main reason he's able to do what he does is his location.
"There's no way if I was 50 miles west of here or 50 miles east of here that I'd have ever been able to do this. This is a special place," he said.
Kreitz's work can be viewed on his website, creativesteelworkinc.com.
Next month's Chautauqua program is titled "Moose - Nomads of the North," with speaker Bill Faber. It will take place from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 11.
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