In my state, Jim Gary is quite a folk hero, because of the automobile dinosaurs that he is known for creating. I definitely think that he deserves a place in the Resplendent Void series.
Jim Gary was born in Sebastian, Florida, but his family moved to New Jersey. He graduated from Freehold High School in 1960. Shortly thereafter, he joined the United States Navy where he would work with welding. That skill would follow him throughout his life, since as he returned to civilian life he taught welding as part of a federal program.
He would eventually take an interest in sculpture and would eventually start making dinosaurs out of automobile parts. In Colt’s Neck, he founded a gallery called Iron Butterfly and would teach classes there along with designing his dinosaurs. Most of his life was dedicated to creating these dinosaurs from car parts.
He died in 2006 from cerebral hemorrhage.
Although he was taught how to weld, the design of dinosaurs from automobile parts developed as a natural skill. It would take up to 10 cars–specifically Chryslers, Fords, and Chevrolets–just to create one dinosaur. The old brake shoes were converted into the dinosaurs’ feet, oil pans their faces, and the axles their legs, and the generator fans as eyes. These dinosaurs–or Garysauruses as they became known as–were given automotive paint in a wide variety of colors such as orange, pink, red, blue, or green.
Though he is also known for his other sculptures, such as a 9/11 Memorial to the Monmouth County residents who died on September 11, 2001, which were ornate in brass and copper with lotus leaves and butterflies. In his full-time artwork job, he crafted small animals and birds for art fairs.
He also designed fine art, such as bronze portraits and busts. Some had stained glass, such as Stained Glass Woman with Tattoo. He also designed sculptures as part of the furniture, such the doors. He also designed the baptismal font in a Catholic Church in Holmdel, a Holocaust memorial sculpture, and life-sized nudes for the Monmouth County Opera Center.
There is a lot of connection that Gary makes towards nature, since they provide the basis for his most famous works and his rationale behind them. The prehistory that Gary exemplifies with car parts shows that blurring distinction between the dinosaurs and the modern world. Not only that, but also the fact that when interviewed, he noticed the similarities between animal body parts and car parts.
Since they were featured in the Smithsonian Institute and because children were fascinated by them, there is the educational value that these creations have in terms of bringing relevance to children. It really has to do with taking advantage of space, specifically how these sculptures would probably represent a dinosaur in real life had it existed. In such a way, these types of metal facsimiles elicit more attention with their physicality than in a book form or even a CGI video form.
The exhibit “Twentieth Century Dinosaurs” was established in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, which included some of Gary’s automobile dinosaurs. It was toured all over the world. His Stegosaurus was also featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Many people of all ages would come see these dinosaurs, not just at the exhibits but also in Gary’s own residence. He was a kind, quiet personality who would always give people a tour.
The only thing that is missing is a biography written about Jim Gary and his automobile dinosaurs.
What Can We Learn?
The connection Gary made between car parts and animal parts really makes one think about the utility that the automobile might have. It could be used to make art, as Gary proved, yet it also has a deeper meaning, since cars have perhaps not sentience but sentiment. A pet is composed of bones just as much as a car has mufflers, brakes, tires, and other parts.
Just like with James Hampton, there is an attachment to objects that might appear disposable to the average person that can manifest in artistic ways. In this case, automobile parts can be among those objects that can have purpose for sculptors. Along with janitors, welders would also be artful in their own way.
There is also the multidisciplinary approach that Gary has taken that is quite unique concerning his widespread influence. Not only does the vocation of welding come into play, but also the fine arts, anatomy, and paleontology. This shows the natural progression into other fields that can truly evolve the portfolio of an artist. Gary himself was surprised that people with all sorts of degrees were coming from all over the world to see his dinosaurs, which definitely shows the gaps that the prestigious class can have when it comes to “fine art.”
The final thing to learn is that if you travel to New Jersey, you will occasionally find a Garysaurus prowling on the verdure. They are an endemic species.
Image Attribution: 83d40m. “Jim Gary Stegosaurus.” Wikipedia. Taken on July 2019. CC BY-SA 4.0. Changes include building upon the work.