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Cold Steel, Soul and Artistry

December 1, 2006

5 Min Read
Cold Steel, Soul and Artistry

Imagine folk-rock singer John Denver sitting across the desk from his head professor at Texas Tech University in 1964. Hed been struggling with his studies but was gaga for the guitar. After words of encouragement from his academic mentor, Denver dropped out of school, and the rest became music history.

Almost 20 years later, Bruce McCardle, Eastern division manager for Mako Steel Inc., sat in the same hot seat, at the same school, in front of the very same professor. Like Denver, hed been seeking to resolve the conflict between artistic fervor and career quest. His advisor regaled him with the above tale, fixed him with a sharp eye and said, So what Im trying to get at is Do you own a guitar? It was time for McCardle to choose his path, and not for the first or last time.

McCardle faced his conundrum from the beginning. On the one hand, he was an imaginative soul with the good fortune to be born and raised in the culturally rich environment of Southern New Mexico. On the other, he had a legacy in a construction family. The youngest of five siblings, he was surrounded by electricians and engineers, making trips to job sites since he was old enough to walk.

What was this boy of creative tendencies to do? McCardle sought a middle ground in the study of architecture. Once at college, however, he realized his mistake. Very few employees of architectural firms actually get to work on design, he says. Most end up being drawing and specs guys. It wasnt what I expected. So I spent four years just taking classes I liked: architectural history, art history and art.

Afterward, in 1982, he returned to New Mexico and took a job with an architect who happened to work closely with a metal-building company. The owner saw potential in McCardle and offered him a job working as a detailer and plan-checker in St. Joseph, Mo. Yet another crossroads loomed before him.

I thought, Im an artist. I cant be a steel detailer, McCardle recalls. But he offered me a good salaryand I became a steel detailer! Ive been involved in the business in some regard ever since.

McCardle has a long history in the metal-building industry, including 10 years in self-storage. In 1999, he walked into his current business opportunity with Mako owner and friend, Caesar Cez Wright (who, despite the occasional ribbing, heartily supports McCardles talent). The dynamic duo spoke at a tradeshow with company founder Mike Brannon; the conversation turned lightheartedly to talk of an East Coast office. A year later, they opened shop in Florida, and its been rockin and rollin ever since.

Still, as much as McCardle loved the industry, he lacked an outlet for his artistic fervor. He had to get his soul journey back on track.

A Defining Moment

Since I was about 15, Ive been a big fan of studying philosophy and religious history and why people do what they do, McCardle says. In college, he further expanded his study of cultures and religion. Interestingly enough, those things are a big part of art and architectural history.

Years later, in 1997, an excursion to Israel with friends served as the crux of an epiphany. McCardle was fascinated by the way a single geographical locationin this case, Jerusalemcould spur so many spiritual cultures. I guess the most amazing thing I learned is theyre all the same, he says. Every culture since the beginning of time has had a need to worship, a need for meaning; and theyve all found a language of symbols to express that.

Having established a comfortable life as a construction professional with Mako East, McCardle began to ruminate on his former passion. I decided to go back to the beginning with my religious studies, Jewish culture in particular. I also wanted to learn Hebrew. It has one of the most beautiful scripts Ive ever seen. I knew someday I wanted to draw and paint it.

McCardle had finally discovered inspiration for his artistic evolution. One night, I was relaxing at home thinking this through. I said to my wife, Nora, Im going to start painting.

The Birth of Nascent Ancient Art

So it began. McCardle kept his day job, but he painted too. Branching out from his original symbolic renditions, he added other traditions. I still love the Hebrew, but its very formal. I started doing some Sanskrit, kanji script and Tibetan symbols, he says.

Later, on the suggestion of his very patient and supportive wife, he decided to shop his stuff around to galleries. I was so naïve. I didnt realize how political the art world is. So knowing absolutely nothing about it, I picked the most prestigious gallery in Jacksonville, he says.

The gallery director, also an artist, was very encouraging. She spent an hour going over my work, explaining what Id need to be gallery ready. She also gave me this great PR angle for my stuffshe called it nascent ancient art, meaning I take something old and make it new.

Determined to be more in touch with the local art community, McCardle and his wife moved to San Marco, a historic area of Jacksonville, Fla., which blends upscale metropolitan style with semi-seediness. Among its shops and galleries is Edwards Pipe & Tobacco, with a back room affectionately dubbed by regulars as the pit. Its where bankers, lawyers, artists and philosophers get together to drink, smoke and toss banter.

The Pit brought McCardle together with Gallery Framery owner Ryan Buckley, who became his manager. Buckley exhibits his work and encourages him to participate in local festivals.

Making It All One

McCardles work is influenced by his favorite artist, Amedeo Modigliani. But I dont want to be anybody else. I want to find my own style. And Ill try not to cut off my ear in the processwhich my wife fears.

As far as his professional life, McCardle has no plans to leave self-storage any time soon. He feels comfortable balancing a busy work schedule with artistic endeavors that run late into the night and his weekends. He recognizes both as important parts of the whole.

I thought my art was a fad that would just go away, and it wont. I dont think art is something you choose, its something you have inside you. Once you discover it, things dont feel right until you find a way to express it. I love making art; and when I cant play at self-storage tradeshows anymore, thats what Ill do. 

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