Photo of “Coupled” by Michael Baggarly, provided by Michael Baggarly
“Just head towards the loud music.”
That’s how associate art professor Michael Baggarly tells people to find him in Todd Hall’s enormous sculpture studio.
Alone in the shop lined with large work tables, tools, heavy machinery and unfinished pieces of art, Baggarly sits at a computer drawing up digital patterns that will later be cut out of metal and become physical shapes for his newest project.
“We integrate a lot of digital technology into sculpture,” he explained.
However, Baggarly, well known for his obscure pieces involving wood and metal, had a knack for creating things long before he was introduced to the CNC Best Plasma Cutter.
A Kentucky native, Baggarly grew up in a family of coal miners. As a teenager, he was a sign painter and did custom graphics in his free time. After high school, he worked in the oil industry for five years. Art was still a hobby for him though, and his wife, who was taking college art classes at the time, convinced him to pursue an art degree. So at about age 26, Baggarly started college as a ceramics major, but finished with a degree in sculpture.
“I always liked working with my hands,” Baggarly said. “I always liked building things.”
And build things he does. From smooth fiberglass and stained wood to acid-washed metal and treasures found in dumpsters, Baggarly creates pieces that, like many works of art, describe and explore experiences and chapters in his life.
“Right now my work is about quiet,” Baggarly said. “Moving, fast images and lots of sound has always been a part of my life, but now it’s kind of like static in my
head…and I think my work is made kind of in opposition to that static. I try to make pieces that are quiet and simple, and something you kind of have to sit and become quiet with.”
The first piece Baggarly made after moving to MTSU was constructed from old wooden student chairs he found in a dumpster. This led to his chair series, which explored relational communications between people and kind of served as a mark of the beginning of Baggarly’s teaching career. Currently, he’s taking a different direction with his work, and playing off of one main idea: simple repetition.
“I think, in a lot of ways, what I’m doing now is a direct link back to my grandfather,” Baggarly said. “He was a coal miner — all my family were coal miners — but he was in a cave-in and it broke his back. When I was old enough to know him and remember him, he could walk, but he walked with a cane, so he really couldn’t do what he used to do. So a lot of his time, he would be sitting with his chair out under a shade tree in his yard and he would be whittling with a knife. Never made anything though. He just whittled pieces of wood into shavings.”
“At the time, I never really understood it, but it was always something that really stuck with me as a visual image, and now as I think back about it, he was so used to repetition and repeated actions and schedule…that once that was taken away, it kind of manifested itself in a different way, like busy work,” Baggarly explained. “So I think this search for simplicity is kind of filtering through that memory of him, because a lot of my work is about repetition and repeating elements.”
Although the patterns of his new pieces are steadily repetitive, the distressed materials that Baggarly chooses to work with are not seen by all viewers as sleek or uniform. The Nashville Scene even once described some of his artwork as “post-apocolyptic.”
“I can see where they got that,” Baggarly said thoughtfully, stroking his chin. “A lot of my pieces are dark. But I see that as a good thing. (Distress) gives it life.”
“I grew up around rusty metal all the time,” Baggarly explained, going back to his childhood influences. “The mines were all around us, and as a kid I would play in their junkyards…and everything was rusted and left behind. There’s something really comforting to me about rusty metal.”
Don’t let all the deep metaphors and unforgiving materials fool you though — there’s a fun side to Michael Baggarly that one can’t help but notice upon first glance into his office, an abode that’s gained him quite a reputation among his art students. Lining nearly shelf and surface are toys, posters and artifacts from all sorts of genres and histories, particularly Sci-Fi. There even stands a life-sized model of Darth Vader in the corner, a gift from a former student.
“I don’t really collect things, I just like things,” Baggarly said with a laugh. “When I was a kid I took these things apart all the time and rebuilt them and made new things out of them, so I think that was kind of like my first connection to being an artist in a way … For me it was always about potential.”
And what better way to spread potential than being an art professor?
The pieces Baggarly is working on now will be shown in his gallery in Korea, April-June of this year.
Baggarly was also featured in both of last year’s Boro Art Crawls, and plans to submit artwork for the next one coming up in February.
To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon email email@example.com.