It hasn't always been a straight path for metal artist Jackie MacLeod, but it sure has been colorful. Known for her rich and magical patinas, Jackie also has advanced degrees in medicine and a former life as a surgeon under her belt. This crossover makes sense when you see her ability to make chemical compounds flourish.
Tell us about your background and how you got started as a metal artist?
I was born in Europe and studied medicine before working as a surgeon and an anesthesiologist in both Germany and the UK, where I have dual citizenship. In 1998, I decided to take some time off work and my husband, David — also an anesthesiologist — got a job at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina. So myself and our two boys, who were 3 years and 1½ years old at the time, came along to enjoy the adventure. Said adventure was supposed to last one year, but life happened and we decided to stay. At that point, I realized how much I enjoyed staying at home with the kids and decided against going back into medicine.
Years later, I received an invitation to a women-led welding class and it was love at first spark. The feeling of creating something new — combined with the ability to wield power tools — was liberating. I fell in love with metal in all of its forms started joining classes and workshops whenever possible.
In 2007, I talked my way into a blacksmith’s workshop as an apprentice and threw myself into learning about cutting, grinding, drilling, welding, forging, and casting metal. Shortly after, I joined Liberty Arts Sculpture Studio & Foundry as a member artist, joined their board, and eventually led the organization as their board president for 6 years. In 2018, I opened my own studio and have worked independently — but always open to collaboration — ever since.
“It was love at first spark. The feeling of creating something new — combined with the ability to wield power tools — was liberating.”
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Creativity and metal.
I enjoy the freedom of creativity; it is meditative and relaxing to me. That doesn't mean that I don’t ever stress over timelines or creations, but overall I think I am the calmest, nicest me when I am creating.
In various stages of my artistic career, I have enjoyed different things about metal. First it was exploring existing metal objects and using them for other purposes — I was a regular in the metal scrapyard. Next, I fell in love with the malleability of metal when you heat it. Forging, melting, and casting metal it into molds of all shapes and sizes became my passion. Then came the discovery of patina: first rust on steel and then the amazing colors that age, water acids, and other environmental factors bring out in copper and brass. I have been working with the “magic of patinas” ever since. You can plan and, to a certain degree, control it — but they always manage to surprise me in the end.
How would you describe your aesthetic and what has influenced it?
My design aesthetic is very intuitive. I work with the material in the moment, letting what I am working with guide me. Some of my best work starts by making a “mistake” and arriving at a different look than the one I was going for.
All of my mentors have influenced me in their own way. I was lucky to have a group of artists at my side at Liberty Arts when I really started exploring, so there never was just one opinion or one way to do things. This community has lasted throughout the years and we still talk, make suggestions, and help each other freely and generously.
“I was lucky to have a group of artists at my side at Liberty Arts when I really started exploring, so there never was just one opinion or one way to do things.”
Tell us a little about your most recent NorthStar Project and how that led to taking on your first mentee.
The task was to create a public art-inspired bench for a historically African American cemetery — and it was easily the biggest project I've taken on in my career so far. When I say biggest, I mean literally that this project was on a larger scale than I usually tackle, but it was also emotionally larger than me. How was I, a white woman originally from the UK, going to do any justice to this project?
I connected with Whitney Hunt, an African American multimedia artist, and we decided that we could tackle this together. Whitney is half my age and has different viewpoints than I do. Her family has loved ones buried at Beechwood, the cemetery the bench was meant for, and we decided that we would enter this project on equal footing. I am so extremely grateful and glad that we did. This project was larger than me on so many levels and the community and stakeholders humbled and educated us with much grace in the process of our research, design and fabrication of the bench.
What’s next for Jackie MacLeod?
I love the collaborative process- I truly enjoy working with clients to make that perfect piece for their home, restaurant, or to showcase a wall. I love taking their stories and turning them into pieces of art.
Recently I have started working with larger entities like hotels and businesses to create impact pieces, and I would love to do more of that work. I have a specific vision I'd love to create of a curved entry wall made of patinated copper that reaches from floor to ceiling. I am turning 60 later this year. It is absolutely crazy to take that in — not because I don’t want to be 60, but because it just seems that life happened so fast. One of my sons married the love of his life two weeks ago. It was brilliant to be a part of their wedding as the older generation and I want to make sure that I am present for all these wonderful moments in my life too.