Former Saline resident Matt Babcock finding success as sculptor in Seattle area

 03/23/2018 - 19:58
Crow sculpture by Matt Babcock
This crow sculpture by former Saline resident Matt Babcock was commissioned by another former Saline resident and Babcock's childhood friend Liam Lavery.

A graduate of Saline High School, Matt Babcock, is making a name for himself as a sculptor in the Seattle area and recently created a sculpture for another former Saline resident, Liam Lavery.

Babcock is the son of Josie Babcock, who worked for many years at the Saline District Library before passing in 2014, and Bryce Babcock, who still lives in the Saline area.

After high school Babcock pursued a degree in art history and physics from the University of Michigan, taking a break in the middle to earn a certificate in welding from Washtenaw Community College.

“I had the opportunity to study whatever I wanted at the university, and I enjoyed both art history and physics a great deal,” Babcock said. “And so my time at the university wasn’t as practical and career-oriented as some people’s time is, for better or for worse. I went to WCC for welding, partly as a way of picking up a practical skill, and partly because there have been metal workers in my family going back a few generations, and it’s something I was always interested in.”

His first sculpture, a winged dinosaur made of metal tubing, was created as a WCC class project and later was installed at student co-op house in Ann Arbor, Nakamura Co-op.

“The tubing that forms the skeleton was based on measurements of fossil bones,” Babcock said. “I had done some research about a specific species of pteranodon and interpreted that.”

Later, he earned a degree in architecture while studying in Colorado and then spent several years as a working architect.

All of those areas of study come together in Babcock’s work, consisting primarily of sculptures made of welded metal tubing and often featuring animals.  In 2008, Babcock left the field of architecture after the company he worked for folded, and he went into sculpting full-time.

Most of Babcock’s commissions these days are from municipalities commissioning public art pieces, but the artist recently had a chance to create a piece for a childhood friend.

Babcock and Lavery had known each other since they were in third grade and took many classes together in high school.

Lavery moved to the west coast in 1994 to be with his wife, Yazmin, who was from the Seattle area originally. A few years later, Lavery heard that Babcock had landed in Seattle and was making a name for himself creating public art sculptures. The two men reconnected in 2005, and a few years down the road, Lavery and his wife discussed commissioning a piece from Babcock to install in their yard.

“The location faces downtown Seattle and the Space Needle,” Lavery said. “So we asked Matt to come up with a piece that would respond to the iconic Space Needle in some way.”

The Lavery family also lived on a hill that experienced a lot of windy days, and Babcock often makes kinetic sculptures, so they asked the artist to incorporate some moving component.

Babcock had already been turning an idea for a sculpture of a three-legged crow from Asian mythology into a sculpture.  Because the location chosen meant the piece would usually be seen backlit by the sun and silhouettes are perceived as black, a crow sculpture seemed like a good fit, Babcock said.

The artist says that he enjoyed the collaboration on the project. “It’s fun to work with somebody you’ve known since you were 8 years old,” Babcock said.

He tweaked the design based on some feedback from the Lavery family, and soon afterward, the crow sculpture was installed.

“We really enjoy the sculpture, and our neighbors like it, too,” Lavery said.

Babcock still remembers Saline fondly and said he would love to come back and create a piece in Saline.

“Perhaps a public piece,” he said. “I think that would be a fun and rewarding thing to do.”

See more of Babcock’s work at https://mbabcock.carbonmade.com.

Sarah Rigg
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. She has worked in community journalism for over 20 years covering education, business, arts & culture and other topics as a reporter, with experience in copy editing, layout, and proofreading.