Building Eugene

Obbink, Matthew
Major Professor
Chris J. Martin
Committee Member
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Research Projects
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Art and Visual Culture
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Art and Visual Culture

Building Eugene is the culmination of a great collaboration across generations. Bringing the ideas of my great, great, great uncle, Eugene R. Obbink, to life was my greatest challenge to date. His entire life lay out in front of me, through the pages of a small journal discovered in a box in my grandmother’s attic. In it, he tells stories of distant lands, traveling across the country in a rail car, and working in the circus. Eugene did all this while trying to prove himself as a great inventor and craftsman. Only a few images of him actually still exist, found in the box along with the journal. I needed to dig deeper into his life, to understand who he was. I did this by recreating his ideas; some I admit were pretty obscure, but truly ahead of their time. Throughout this thesis and exhibition, I understood that in order to imagine the life of Eugene, I had to develop his ideas first: a collapsible, self-portrait apparatus, a bench that sounds like a train, a rocking chair that counts, and thumb guards for an anxious nail biter, just to name a few. I created my own works from the ideas of Eugene’s journal, utilizing my skills as a woodworker and metalsmith, along with modern equipment, to achieve my goals. That goal was to create an experience for the viewer—one where each person could walk through the exhibition, interacting with the work itself, and coming to have a greater understanding of who Eugene was. In addition they could see a part of the life he lived, along with the person I am, and how I create my work. My personal experiences with wood and metal are very different from Eugene’s; however, we do connect on many levels: understanding the quality and traditions of craft, knowing the importance of a good sense of humor, and having a love for travel. As you read this thesis, and interact with the work, I hope that you will be able to look into the window of a different time, a place where there was an entire life full of invention and adventure.