“The vast majority of
my pieces are square.
I like squares.
I don’t know why.”

photographs by Brittany Ehlert

Object Lessons

an interview with Scott Guelcher

by Cindy-jo Dietz

SCOTT GUELCHER WAS WAITING for me outside the downtown Starbucks as I walked up. After getting acquainted, we made our way to the courtyard directly behind the rear of the building to sit and do our interview.

I asked him to describe himself, and what it is he does. “I’m an artist. I’m an art teacher, avid music and baseball fan…” he answered. “I create all different types of artwork from paintings to sculpture. Most of my work is mixed media.” He added, “It’s been exhibited locally and internationally. People all over the world own pieces of my work.”

Over the years, Scott has also been awarded several grants from the City of Fort Myers and involves himself heavily with the Arts for Act auction and other philanthropic work.

‘Bikinis & Bombs,’ created when Scott was enrolled at FGCU in 2005, was a senior show that gained Scott international recognition and helped him begin his career exhibiting publicly. The pieces touched on very personal subject matter, relating to events his father experienced while enlisted in the United States Army in the early 1950s.

After the U.S. government dropped the atomic bomb in Japan, they started testing the hydrogen bomb in the South Pacific on the Marshall Islands.

“My dad was basically a guinea pig,” he says ”They sat him out in the islands and dropped the hydrogen bomb as he watched. He said it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. After the blast, they had the troops go around the island with Geiger counters. Basically they were just getting blown away with radiation.” He continues, “He’s still alive and everything is good, but he’s one of the few survivors.”

Scott did his research and created an entire exhibition based on these tests and the aftermath. Unfortunately, many of the pieces were quite large, so shipping them to Bikini Atoll was impossible, but they exhibit photos of the pieces on their website to this day.

I asked him to describe what influences him now. He told me that currently he is all about objects, sighting his lack of producing the usual portraits of people, landscapes, and the like. “Everybody relates to an object in a certain way. It may be different from one person to the next, but everybody can relate to a coffee cup, or camera, whatever,” he explains. “If you put objects that somehow relate together in one piece, you can tell a story through those objects. I’m trying to tell a story, whether it be something simple such as different things from OctoberFest, or something more complicated like my work with the ‘Bikinis & Bombs’ collection, some kind of issue that may be going on in the world, I want to tell about my feelings about it.”

This focus on objects is evident in his series titled ‘People, Places & Things.’ Scott says that he exhibited the series for years, finally getting a bit bored. This is when he shifted focus once again and started working more with mixed media. “Now there could be a combination of painting, drawing, collage, recycled materials, whatever.” He continues, “That’s the direction I’ve been going in recently, more mixed media. Occasionally I add sculpture if commissioned to do so, but mostly painting two dimensional-ish pieces of mixed media. I work in themes usually and the vast majority of my pieces are square. I like squares. I don’t know why.”

Another project Scott has been involved with is ‘ArtPoems.’ I asked him to describe what that is. “Artists get paired up with two different poets. The poet picks a piece of your artwork and makes a poem from it. Then the poet gives you a poem, and you make a piece of artwork from their poem. There were three different exhibits. One was at BIG ARTS on Sanibel, one was at the Alliance for the Arts, and another is at the Cape Coral Library, he explains, adding “They produce a book every year, and it’s sold nationwide.”

Scott recently exhibited his work in the Sustainable Art Show at the SWFL Sustainability Summit. “The pieces in the show will utilize everything from old magazines, to recycling old parts. There will be a piece where I took old ceiling fans and turned the fan blades into fish, different kinds of mixed media, found objects, reclaimed wood — the point being to be sustainable instead of buying new materials.’

He continues, “I’ve been taking a break from producing new art except when it comes to supporting different causes.”Scott will have a large piece of artwork up for auction at a fundraiser for Pearl Jam’s Wish List Foundation prior to the band’s concert in Tampa in April.

Scott supplements his art addiction by working as an art teacher at Island Coast High School in Cape Coral. He says his interactions with his students influences his art and he believes that works vise verse as well. “I show my students a lot of my artwork. I actually work on a lot of stuff in the classroom. I think they get inspired by seeing the different things I do.” He continues, “Also, students influence me all the time through the many ideas they come up with. I learn a lot of techniques from them. For instance, a year ago I was commissioned to do two statues on the FGCU campus, which have been there for quite a long time. The technique I used to put clothing on them was called ‘monster mud,’ a combination of joint compound and fabric that hardens. I learned that from one of my students.”

I asked Scott if he always intended to teach, and how did he find himself in the profession. “Back in high school, I loved art and baseball. I thought a great idea would be to become a sports photographer. My guidance counselor at the time told me ‘you can’t make a career in art.’ Boy was she wrong,” he says. “It just so happened we both worked in the same restaurant in the evenings as a part time job. She would say I was so great in the restaurant that I should go into hotel and restaurant management. So I found myself at 21 still working in restaurants and watching my managers working 90-100 hours a week for next to nothing. I decided that was just not for me.”

“In the meantime, my parents retired to Florida. I was still in Pennsylvania. They suggested the Ringling School of Art + Design, which was not too far from where they lived. So I moved in with them for a little while and started at Ringling. I left Ringling two years later. I enjoyed art, but it just didn’t seem like I fit in with other people there.” He adds, “So I left and began at Florida Gulf Coast University in 2002. They were just opening their new art building and I was one of the first students. I had a great experience, loved the faculty, the students, everything. One faculty member in particular, Patricia Faye, a ceramics professor, really took me under her wing. I learned a lot from her.”

He continues, “When I graduated in 2005, she was the one who made me want to be a teacher. What she gave me, I wanted to give back to other students. After I graduated, I attended some night classes in order to get the education you need to be a teacher. I got hired at Lehigh High School and worked there for a few years. Then they got rid of art in the elementary schools for a little while so I got let go after three years. I then became the Education Director at the Alliance for the Arts. After two years, they put the art back in elementary schools, new schools opened up, and I got hired at Island Coast High School. I’ve been there ever since.”

Scott says, “High school seems to be a pretty good fit for me. I’m still a teenager at heart, really. I’m just like one of them. That could be a good or bad thing.” He adds, “With each graduating class there are always a couple of kids you really have a connection with.”

What really serves as a reward for Scott is watching students go out into the world and make their own career out of art. “I have a student who is a tattoo artist,” he boasts. “She went through an early apprenticeship and now makes a career out of it, and a successful one at that.” •

For more information about Scott Guelcher and his art, visit www.guelcherart.com.

May-June 2016