The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

John Gargano

Added to museum: 7/19/07

Exploring the Beauty of Craftsmanship—Turning Metal into Art

A portrait of an artist in metal and his favorite machine—John with his Bridgeport. (Click on any photo to view a larger image.)


Machinery and machining is often seen as simply a way to get from a block of raw material to some part that can be used for some purpose. Among those who shape metal, either for a living or for the love of the process, the machined surfaces, shapes and resulting constructions often have a beauty of their own that transcends their function. John Gargano discovered in his youth that there is both beauty and permanence in working in metal. After a career in architecture, he is now returning to what he really loves—creating works of art in metal. Many of you who also work with metal will find much in common with his experiences. In his biography, he has managed to convey how and why he works as he does. At the bottom is a link to his web site where you can explore more of his work. We have included a few photos of his main pieces so you can see the results of how his life experiences came together to allow him to produce work like this. It is unique, and there is no "school" where you can go to learn to do this. It comes from the hands, the mind and the heart.

This sculpture called "Dupree" demonstrates the kind of shapes and finishes John Gargano likes to achieve in his work. More photos can be seen at the bottom of this page. (Click on any image to view a larger version.)

About John Gargano

Early experiences with building models

John Gargano grew up in New Jersey. From his early childhood days he recalls being fascinated with making things. He made all types of plastic models of cars, boats, planes, and military vehicles. He built train sets, and various types of wooden models. He played with Lincoln Logs and he had an Erector set and a chemistry set. He made numerous science projects. One year he made a scale model of a Mercury capsule complete with the launch escape tower that was over four feet tall—all from scratch. He continually had some type of wheeled vehicle in some state of completion, and throughout his school days he remembers always carrying around a wood shop project along with all his books and gym bag.

He found hobby shops to be an endless source of inspiration where he never tired of looking at the various materials and processes people were employing to make projects conceived by others or objects of their own design. He loved working with plastic, spray paint, colored pencils, balsa wood, decals, Testors cement and X-acto tools. When he wasn’t making something of his own he was working with his father who was a home builder. One summer, he and his brother and his cousin began cutting out circles from old sheets and the attaching eight or ten strings to points on the perimeter. They next experimented with tying everything from rocks and other heavy objects to the strings to form home-made small scale parachutes which they rolled up in a every way they could think of. They proceeded to hold contests where they threw the parachutes up in the air as high as they could to see how slowly they could get them to come down. And they did this all summer long.

The beginnings of a love affair with metal

After taking wood shop in school for many years he finally opted to take a class in metal shop while he was in high school. He remembers his guidance counselor having an issue with taking metal shop once per day as a major course as opposed to three times per week as a minor course. Since he was preparing to go to college he was strongly discouraged from taking metal shop as a major. Nonetheless, he prevailed. He was fascinated by the power of the machinery and he liked the strength and permanence of metal objects as opposed of those made of wood or plastic. He recalls the enthusiasm of his metal shop instructor who was a very dedicated, caring and knowledgeable teacher. It seemed the capabilities of the metal shop were those of industry. No longer was he limited to making toys, scale models or crude devices.

In his first year he learned about the capabilities of each of the machines and the endless possibilities that could be accomplished with fasteners, casting, welding, sheet metal and machining. In his second year he took on a project that even his shop teacher tried to discourage – the ball peen hammer from the South Bend project book which had a tapered and knurled, hollow handle. He went on to complete that project much to the amazement of many people. It even won a prize in the annual science fair. The only problem it presented was that he carried around the dirty greasy bars wherever he went because he never waned to leave them in a locker in the metal shop. Aside from all of the knowledge he gained about materials, processes and techniques, he had no idea at the time that he was in the process of discovering something about making things that would transcend the value and capability of even the most accurately and skillfully made objects. The metal shop came to represent an entire realm of capabilities, and he enjoyed working in the metal shop so much that he even came to develop an affinity for that particular smell of a metal shop.

He later learned that by taking up the task of making tangible objects he was accomplishing an objective many people seem to find illusive. After many years of making so many different things he had no idea that through learning how to cut and shape and fasten and polish and paint, that he was developing a sense of confidence and becoming a capable person. These things lead to an overall feeling of confidence and the development a vivid and powerful imagination. These intangible attributes of character eventually came to permeate every aspect of his life.

When it came time to go to college Mr. Gargano studied liberal arts only to quickly discover that such a course of study was most certainly not the most appropriate for him. At that point he transferred to Virginia Tech to study art and architecture. In his freshman orientation at Virginia Tech he remembers a professor from Switzerland telling all of the new students and their parents that the college of architecture had no classes, no books, no lectures and no tests. All they had were projects. A hush came over the room as everyone seemed to be amazed by this statement. Everything they had know about education up until that point was about to change and they seemed visibly worried. Mr. Gargano on the other hand was so elated it was all he could do to keep from jumping up and cheering! Over the next several years he totally immersed himself in projects of all types. During those years he had the feeling that sleeping was nearly a complete waste of time.

In his third year of study he developed a five-foot square modular graphic composition that was made of illustration board and colored paper with a wooden frame. After the class in which he presented that project that same professor from Switzerland who was at freshman orientation three years earlier took him aside. The European professors at the time were not known for their diplomacy while evaluating the merits of a given student’s work. To say there was a bit of tension in the moment would be an understatement. The professor looked at Mr. Gargano very sternly and said with a heavy German accept, “You should now begin to use more permanent media in your work”. Having prepared himself for a sound thrashing, Mr. Gargano required a moment to fully assimilate the implications of that particular remark. Everyone at the time was making models and various design projects out of paper or cardboard because with up to three projects per week, those materials were inexpensive and easy to work with. Since the projects were only for learning about concepts, they had little value after they were completed and most were shortly discarded. With the recommendation to use more permanent media in his work it took Mr. Gargano no more than a few seconds before he came upon a very simple yet distinct realization. He thought going forward that he could make his projects out of metal and machine them if they were three dimensional.

The seeds are planted for a future project

It took a few seconds after that before he came up against a stark realization. There was no machine shop! In high school the machine shop had three South Bend tool room lathes, a pristine Bridgeport milling machine, a shaper, a drill press, two band saws and numerous other tools for cutting and bending sheet metal. There was a furnace and crucible for melting metal for casting, two welding machines and supplies of materials, abrasives and fasteners to be envied. The college of architecture at that time had a rudimentary wood shop and several dark rooms for photography. Nevertheless, the distinct question, why not machine the components of his work, lingered on in his mind for years.

In the entire realm of artistic composition one can readily see stone, plaster, cast bronze,  clay, welded metal, glass, sheet metal, plastic and nearly every other material and process known to humankind, but after years of looking, there was vanishingly little machining or other industrial techniques employed in the making of artistic compositions. There is no question that the most often used medium was paint on canvas. Why was this? He kept coming back to this seemingly obvious question. On every visit to nearly every museum from New York to Washington DC (and that’s a lot of museums) Mr. Gargano kept seeing similar media and techniques over and over.

Mr. Gargano went on to practice architecture in Colorado for many years and even took on simple industrial design projects. He kept up his photographic skills and engaged in silk screening and painting. That question from the third year of his college studies continued to linger in his mind. Why not use more permanent media? Why not make artistic compositions from machined elements?

Back to school after twenty years

Twenty years after graduating from Virginia Tech, after having practiced architecture and venturing into other diverse design disciplines, Mr. Gargano decided that he had spent enough time thinking about this question. He decided it was time to take on the task of learning the machining trade for the sole purpose of making artistic compositions. He immediately enrolled in trade school and went to classes in Downtown Denver three nights per week after work. It was clear that the trade school was in its last legs and about to be shut down. The machines were all very old, everything was out of square and all the cutting tools were dull. Of the 14 students in the class, three were from Indonesia, two were from India, three were from China and no one knew about the last foreign student because no one spoke his language. All but three of the students were in the CNC class and had never used manual machinery. Again, Mr. Gargano had to persist against the strong encouragement to start with CNC. It was explained in the very first class that no one used manual machinery any more and there was really no one to provide instruction for it. When he explained that he wanted to learn how to use the Bridgeport milling machine, he was told that he first had to learn how to use the lathe. And the first thing one had to do in learning how to use a lathe was to grind a cutting tool - by hand on a dilapidated grinding wheel!

On the second class, Mr. Gargano brought in the ball peen hammer he had made in high school and showed it to the teacher hoping to persuade him that that he could skip the lathe class. No problem there. He was next handed two video tapes about milling operations and told to watch them. It soon became obvious that there was no time for the instructor to leave the CNC class and provide instruction on the manual Bridgeport milling machine. Mr. Gargano contacted the local Bridgeport dealer and purchased a manual for the machine – fully expecting that it would explain how to use the machine! After spending $35 on a thin light blue book it was obvious that the “manual” was nothing more than a disorganized compilation of technical information sheets the Bridgeport Company had accumulated for many different versions of that machine they had manufactured over the years. Useful as they were, there was no information on using the machine. Mr. Gargano remained at the trade school for two more semesters until it closed. During that time he became very proficient at tramming the milling machine because he had to tram it every time he used it.

Finally—metalworking machines of his own

After the trade school closed he decided to purchase a used Bridgeport milling machine. After many months of looking at worn out and pathetic machines, it turned out, the local dealer had just taken back in trade a machine that was sold to the University of Colorado 25 years earlier. It seems the machine was located in a Physics lab and although it was manufactured in n1968, it had hardly been used. It was in absolutely pristine condition! Expecting that purchasing such a machine would include delivery, Mr. Gargano was quite surprised to find out that he had to hire riggers at a cost of $600 to load up the machine and have it delivered to his house. Delivery of that machine was an occasion the entire neighborhood will most likely never forget. After having a semi tractor and trailer pull up with the machine a specialized fork lift it became evident that forks lifts don’t work very well on steep icy driveways! Considering the hourly rate of the riggers, a few neighbors helped to clear a path through the ice and the machine was subsequently placed in the garage. After it was all done, one of the neighbors came up and said, “that’s a pretty fancy drill press you’ve got there!” One neighbor, an 80 year old precious woman from across the street knew exactly what was going on. Her father was a mechanical engineer and he had worked with a Bridgeport milling machine. It turns out she had a reasonably sophisticated wood shop in her basement complete with several high end machines. Not only that, she really knew how to use them and she could make anything known to humankind! Needless to say – that very nice lady was by far my favorite neighbor and we became very good friends.

In the next few weeks Mr. Gargano hired an electrician to come over to wire up the phase converter, he leveled the machine, trammed it, and went to work. What a relief it was not to have to lug all of his tools to the trade school downtown three nights per week. Over the next four years, Mr. Gargano diligently worked with that pristine Bridgeport milling machine in every spare moment of his time. He could barely conceal his pleasure and joy. No more cardboard and paper models! As time went on it became more and more obvious why no one was making artistic compositions from machined metal components.

First of all, most artists are not inclined towards technical disciplines. That said, it became very evident after making nothing but junk – for years – that simply acquiring a Bridgeport milling machine does not make one a machinist! Not only that, but an end mill that is the same diameter of a given drill bit is about eight to ten times the cost. All those little red Starrett boxes were quite an investment. The little blue Valenite boxes were even more of an investment. So the answer to the question began to reveal itself over time. No one was making artistic compositions with machined elements because learning the machining trade was extremely time consuming (as well as unforgiving) and the expense associated with the machines, tools and materials was significant. That said, Mr. Gargano was not the least bit deterred.

Just having a Bridgeport milling machine in his garage caused him to walk around with a grin like a Cheshire cat. It meant nothing to him that it was taking a great deal of time to become proficient. This was exactly what he learned growing up. Staying with an activity that does not provide immediate gratification, but instead requires a long-term concentrated effort; it required discipline. And Mr. Gargano had learned from all of his experiences in shop classes, and through working with his father, that nothing worth having comes easily and provides immediate gratification. Further, whenever one goes where they have not previously been, one is immediately bestowed the title of novice. If one readily takes on that title and honors it with an attitude of respect, the activity will provide a wonderful experience in the moment, and with the investment of time, one will obtain the return of satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment. These feelings, which are absent amongst many of our young people today, in turn bring about feelings of security and self esteem. These feelings make one sure-footed and capable as they go through life. Mr. Gargano believes that many so-called personality problems such as “attention deficit disorder”, and other psychological issues, which today are treated with pharmaceuticals, are in fact nothing more than deficits of self esteem and feelings of emptiness many people feel for not having taken on, and prevailing through, objectives that require discipline and hard work. Objectives of this type are not honored in a culture of instant gratification. While many people shun adversity, Mr. Gargano believes only through embracing and overcoming adversity with the proper attitude can one realize their fullest potential in life.

(Left) John's compact but well-organized shop and studio. (Right) A final facing operation on the Bridgeport. The marks from the fly cutter will be left on the part so as not to disguise the nature of the process used to create it, but rather to illustrate it. (Click on either photo to view a slightly larger image. More in-progress photos are available on John's own web site.)

After working with the Bridgeport milling machine for four years, Mr. Gargano decided to purchase a lathe. He looked on eBay and inspected various types of used machines in the region. Since Colorado is not known as a hub of industry, suitable machines were not readily available. One day he found the perfect machine. It seemed a local gentleman who was an EMCO aficionado had taken on as his first retirement project the rebuilding of one complete machine from three used machines. He disassembled each machine, inspected the parts under magnification, selected the best ones and vibratory cleaned each one. He then purchased German SST metric socket head cap screws to replace the black oxide fasteners that came with the original machines. When he could not find acceptable parts from one of the three used machines, he acquired original parts from the manufacturer. But for new paint, the final machine was mechanically perfect and extremely accurate. Mr. Gargano considers this machine to be a treasure, and he uses it on every one of his machined metal sculptures.

It all comes together as art

After having worked with both machines for another year Mr. Gargano decided to begin his first machined metal sculpture for public consumption. That sculpture, Stiletto, was meticulously produced over the course of the next year. Stiletto was machined from steel and the parts were nickel plated. Because he developed tendonitis from handling the heavy steel cubes, Mr. Gargano went forward from that time working with aluminum.

Mr. Gargano produces machined metal sculptures today that typically require months to complete. A unique feature of his work is that he rarely removes the machining marks. Instead, the machining marks are carefully and consistently made to reveal the true nature of the process. This is consistent with the Bauhaus orientation which honors the true nature of a material and resists decoration and adornment. When he begins a new piece he has learned to stay away from thinking about when it will be completed. That type of thought process is bothersome and not conducive to making high quality parts. When people ask when a given piece will be finished, Mr. Gargano now simply smiles and says, “I don’t know”. Consideration of dates and times of completion are not an integral part of the creative process.

Carefully prepared drawings are done using a CAD program and the parts are built to spec as they would be in industrial applications. Every aspect of John's learning about machining metal goes into the planning and construction of these objects of art.

Today, four years after making his first piece, Mr. Gargano has produced only seven pieces of machined metal sculpture. For each project he carefully prepares detailed measured drawings and instructions. Each piece of his work is an attempt to execute an all encompassing work of art that that addresses both the technical and aesthetic aspects of the task. His work has twice been accepted into the Rocky Mountain Biennial Juried Art Competition which covers a seven state region and the Stiletto received an honorable mention in that competition. Mr. Gargano has also exhibited his work in fine art galleries and his work has been accepted for exhibit at the Cherry Creek Festival of the Arts in Denver, Colorado. To date he has received two commissions to create pieces for specific art collectors. Most recently, after having moved to Florida, he has exhibited his work in Naples as part of the Saturday Art in the Park Program and the piece called Barton was recently accepted into the All Florida Juried Exhibit and Competition in June of 2007.

Art as a universal principle

Art is anything someone does as a form of expression. Throughout recorded history, fine art has provided viewers with a dimension of experience beyond one’s everyday occurrences. While people may debate and deliberate about whether or not a given piece of art is “beautiful to them”, people have learned to appreciate that which may not appeal to them if it exhibits merit, or talent and dedication on the part of the maker. This is a universal principle. Mr. Gargano today makes art that embodies the values and principles that have defined his life. Every piece of his sculpture is a carefully executed composition that expresses in machined metal the same things composers try to express with music or poets try to express with words. Unlike many of the contemporary artists of the last fifty years, Mr. Gargano has endeavored to challenge himself as opposed to his audience. He enjoys seeing work of any kind that embodies the principles of discipline, dedication to learning, and the time honored practice of craft.

More of Mr. Gargano’s work can be seen on his web site at Some of these projects are sold but some are available for purchase. Contact Mr. Gargano through his web site for purchase details.

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Here are some photos of Mr. Gargano's work:

(Click photo for larger image.)

Called simply "Capital Letter A," the structural nature of this sculpture shows some influence from John's 20 years in architecture.

Machined Aluminum, 7"L x 8.5"W x 9.5"H, Edition of 5

7 lb

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This more complicated structure is called "Barton." Each of John's structural sculptures are first designed in great detail using a Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) program. Some of John's artwork and mechanical drawings can be see by visiting his own web site at

Machined Aluminum, 22"L x 16"W x 16" H, 75 lb, Edition of 5

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Here is another look at "Dupree," which is also shown near the beginning of this page. John's sculptures incorporate round elements made on the lathe as well as flat and angled components machined on a mill. The machined surfaces are carefully produced but the tool marks are not polished off--left there to illustrate the true nature of the machined object and exhibiting an honest beauty of their own.

Nickel Plated Aluminum, 48"L x 19"W x 48"H, Private Commission of 1

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Aluminum, 35"L x 19"W x 15"H, w/ black granite base

200 lb

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Nickel Plated Steel, 33"L x 13"W x 11"H, w/ black granite base

360 lb

(A 30 x 40" print on canvas is also available featuring this piece--see John's web site.)

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John refers to this sculpture as "Whimsical 01." That can be a description, a name or both, but it definitely takes his work in another direction.

Machined Aluminum, 9" x 8" x 5", Edition of 5

10 lb

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"Friday Night"

Machined Aluminum, 20"L x 14"W x 23"H, Edition of 1 only

125 lb

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