If you have ever spent any time walking around New Orleans parks and green spaces, you have probably encountered some of Madeleine Faust’s brilliant metal sculpture. She has pieces in prominent public and private places all over the metropolitan area. Madeleine is a prolific artist who also maintains a demanding teaching schedule. We interviewed Madeleine at her spacious Mid-City studio next to the Lafitte Greenway.
NCM: This is a great studio space. Where do you teach?
Madeleine: I’m an itinerant talented art teacher in Jefferson Parish. But when I am not teaching, I come here to make ceramic sculpture in addition to metal sculpture. Or basically any art that someone will pay me to do.
NCM: Are you originally from New Orleans?
Madeleine: Yes, I was born and raised here.
NCM: Did you have any formal artistic training?
Madeleine: I ended up getting my Masters degree at Tulane in Sculpture. My Bachelors was in Painting and Drawing from LSU.
NCM: What led you to become a professional artist as opposed to just having it as a hobby?
Madeleine: Because I love making art. I love to make stuff. I always have to have a project. I can’t stop making art because something happens to me.
I didn’t start teaching full-time until after Katrina. Before Katrina I was adjunct at Loyola and then adjunct at Xavier. I also supplemented my income with a decent amount of commissions and I had a husband to help support me.
But that all changed after Katrina. I had to support me and my two boys. So I started teaching full-time for Jefferson Parish, which is a fantastic job. I teach talented students.
Both of my sons have decided to work in the arts. One of my sons is getting his degree in Graphic Design at LSU and the other one is going into Photo Journalism. They have both used this studio space as well.
NCM: It’s great that you have encouraged them. A lot of parents don’t encourage their children to go into the arts. Did your family encourage you?
Madeleine: My dad was always great. He was an Electrical Engineer and he would help me on projects. He was excited, but he would always joke that I should take up watercolor because his back was getting hurt a lot from moving my stuff.
NCM: Is anyone else in your family an artist?
Madeleine: My mother is an artist, but she is primarily a lady first and foremost. She wanted me to marry someone who would take care of me. But that didn’t happen.
NCM: What genre would you say that you work in?
Madeleine: Right now it is really sort of site specific work. Things made for certain spaces and for the taste of an individual. When I do my own work, I do a lot of whimsical metal sculptures. The ones that you see out there are models for bigger pieces. When you do your own work you try to put it in a gallery and hope someone will buy it. But I just don’t have that luxury right now.
NCM: Whose work inspires you the most?
Madeleine: I absolutely adore John Scott. And when I worked at Xavier, I actually took his place when he was working on his retrospective at the museum. I taught his classes and I was just honored that he would ask me to do that. Fletcher Benton, Albert Paley, and David Smith have all been big influences as well. Abstract metal art does something to me. I love it.
NCM: How old were you when you first started sculpting?
Madeleine: I used to construct things out of clay and sticks at my grandmother’s house. But it wasn’t until I was already majoring in Painting and Drawing at LSU when I took my first sculpture class. It was a wonderful experience and I was immediately hooked. I got my degree in Painting and Drawing (because I wanted to finish at LSU), but I was hooked on Sculpture.
NCM: How do you differentiate your sculpture from everyone else’s? There is a lot of art on the market these days.
Madeleine: I just put a piece put there on the artist’s trail and someone contacted me about it and said, “I can tell your style!”
I use a lot of circles and painted metal. I guess it is my sense of design. It doesn’t have to be brightly colored. Sometimes it is just monochromatic.
NCM: What kind of paint do you use on the metal?
Madeleine: For the outdoor pieces I use Sherwin-Williams DTM Industrial Acrylic Enamel. I always use a primer too. It seems to last a very long time. I always go for an industrial paint for outdoor work. Like industrial marine or metal paint. Because you know that any metal outside is going to get very hot in the Summer. You can buy basic colors in that paint at Sherwin-Williams. If you want specific colors in that paint, you need to custom order it. I usually just mix my own colors based off of what I can get in the store.
NCM: What do you think is the most challenging part of being a metal sculptor?
Madeleine: It is hard to have all of the tools and the equipment that I need to get the job done. A lot of these things are expensive to acquire and I can’t always afford them. So I sometimes have to improvise. I also am fortunate to have a space where I can make a lot of noise. The process of building sculpture is noisy.
The fun part of sculpting is the engineering. That is what I like. For example, The Jax and the Ball piece had to be designed so that the internal structure could support the weight of the piece. And to me that’s fun.
NCM: Do you ever have an assistant here to help you life some of these pieces? Or do you lift them yourself?
Madeleine: No I have assistance when I need it. My boys are good at that. Simon is living with me this Summer.
NCM: What do you wish you had known about being a metal sculptor before you got started?
Madeleine: I wish that I had read those books that people gave me to read in college about how to make money as an artist. I never did. It has not served me well. But I still don’t read the books, because I just don’t have time. I’m just an impetuous creative type.
NCM: Do you find that your pieces are so big that you don’t get a consistent steady stream of people that want that level of work?
Madeleine: That’s definitely part of it. I might get a commission for a $25,000 piece one year, but not anything that big the next year. But that’s fine because I am lucky to get my teacher’s salary.
NCM: Did you get a teaching certificate for that job.
Madeleine: No, I don’t teach regular art education. I teach talented art students who have been identified as gifted. These kids have passed a specific test which allows them to be in my art class.
This past Fall semester I had 42 kids assigned to me at 5 different schools. Then they hired another teacher, which brought my caseload down to 13 at four schools. It’s intense artistic study.
NCM: How do you deal with negative criticism? Has anyone ever said anything that hurt you deeply?
Madeleine: The only time I had something come close to that was when I was selected to put a sculpture on Veterans Blvd. They showed me the site, which was surrounded by a lot of light green foliage. And I thought purple would look nice against light green, so I painted the sculpture purple.
However, the Parish ended up putting it at a different site and the piece didn’t have the same resonance within its environment. It was surrounded by a bunch of buildings. Sure enough, some people hated it. One guy on Nola.com even called it, “That Barney purple monstrosity that looks like it fell off of a garbage truck!”
NCM: How do you come up with a profitable pricing structure for your art? I know that there are additional factors that go into pricing sculptures.
Madeleine: Since I have done a number of large scale pieces, I pretty much know how to estimate certain costs. The thing that I am still really bad at is figuring out the man hours needed to finish pieces. I try to come up with that and then I factor in contingency costs, but I rarely come out with situations where I am making a lot of money.
It also helps to know people’s budget. I can usually figure out how to work with people to come up with something that we can all live with. I have learned to negotiate that way.
NCM: Did you ever have a mentor? Someone that helped show you the ropes.
Madeleine: When I was in graduate school, I did stone work. Strangely enough, I actually started carving figurative work in stone at LSU. But once I moved to New Orleans, I met this family that were working in the Crown Plaza at the Entergy Center. They were a family of traveling stone masons who went from city to city for specialized jobs. They taught me how to construct with stone using diamond saw blades as well as where to cut and determining angles to cut. They taught me some really neat stuff.
Afterwards I started to make stone works that were more abstract than figurative. There was also a new construction aspect to my work.
Then I started dating a guy who had a machine shop. He also taught me a lot. In fact, I still have some of his tools. He died, but his sister gave me his tools to use. They are ancient, but they never break. He taught me how to work with metal.
NCM: Where can people see more of your work?
Madeleine: Well, I have a piece in the French Market. And I have a pieces on Veterans and on Power Blvd. You can find my work all around Blue Plate. There are two sculptures left at American Can. There is also one at Canal and Carollton as well as another at a park in Algiers. I also have smaller pieces at individual houses around town.
I also have my website www.mfauststudios.com