There is something in everything, depending on how you look at it

Photos by Joe Jaworski & Edda Buchner

What’s behind a rock, a root, a shell, or a time-proven fence post? Maybe nothing. But you can always make it “something.” Just by looking and thinking. Art objects are all around us. Nobody knows that better than silversmith and “Macher” (maker) Helmut Buchner from the Bat Cave Ranch by San Antonio.

Helmut has a very deliberate way of talking. Each sentence, no matter how obvious the content, clearly captures a deep thought. And that also applies to the stories behind his sculpture park on his ranch, which grows steadily. I will try my best to do our conversation justice with my English interpretation of some of his new, money-free objet d’art.

Mona Lisa came together just for fun. There was a river rock laying around for years. It had the shapes of a beautifully formed woman, no relations to the Kardashians (maybe Picasso or Gaugin). And then there was also the tree stump of an old cedar tree. That tree had been in conflict with an oak. Every time when I have to cut down a tree, I leave a stump as a memorial. It could be used for something later. That tree offered itself to install something on it. The other two things had been waiting in the grass for a while. So I put all three together, set the rock on the stump, and installed the metal frame around it. The stone, steel, and wood enhanced each other quite naturally.”

Covid-19 Man: “I made that at the beginning, when we started to realize how threatening and aggressive Covid-19 was. For the first time it happened in my long life that we had such a worldwide epidemic. For me, the woodblock face demonstrates the anguish of a patient screaming from pain and terror. We’ve had the ball made of sea shells for a long time and it offered itself as a Covid virus symbol encompassing the entire globe.”

Bird Happiness: Helmut stands at the bottom of 40-foot-tall bamboo pole. It has a weather vane at the top, a bird with a long ribbon tail. The “Windvogel” sways in all directions, depending on how the wind blows. Unfortunately, storms repeatedly tore the sculpture off its mount. Helmut’s solution? He made a bamboo man to help support the structure. “The golden-haired bamboo guy holds up the pole so that the bird won’t fly away,” Helmut says. So how is this working out? Time will tell.

Himmelsleiter-Stairway to Heaven: A bicycle without a saddle is parked at the bottom of a bamboo ladder leading up into the air to who-knows-where? This sculpture, one of Helmut’s oldest, is thoroughly weathered. Visitors are fascinated by it, a stairway to heaven. “I figured that the ladder alone won’t get you to heaven, but I had a lot of people thinking that it might,” Helmut says with a wry smile on his face.

Nothing is accidental about Helmut’s sculptures. They are built on careful observation, selection, and artistic vision. A lot of thought goes into them. Helmut’s next sculpture could take a while or happen spontaneously. It starts with the idea, then the collection of materials, and finally comes the technical problem solving. The organic part is undeniable. These sculptures, exposed to the elements, change and mature over time—intentionally. They are in constant dialog with the maker and spectator. And nature.

“I don’t want to convert people to anything. Everybody should make up his or her own interpretation. Friends brought visitors over to show them the sculptures. I am always surprised about their comments. Everybody gets to think what they want. And that is the way it should be.”

Another piece is in the works, called Kama Sutra, aka a bunch of large, gnarly cedar roots arranged together. “At this time, I am working on the enlightened lovers,” Helmut says.

What will people think about that?

Whatever they want. Like me. Mea culpa, Helmut! I had thought that man with the sea shells was playing beach volleyball: shells = beach, white ball, get it? Perhaps some wishful thinking there. We all could have done so much better without the Covid.

Maybe some objects are also crying out to you for the art inside of them? Just look around! Elevate your vision for the not-so-ordinary.

There is more. Helmut is also an excellent silversmith-jewelry maker. His life partner Edda Buchner will be showcasing his jewelry together with the sculptures in a book. Helmut has also built a Zen garden, a labyrinth, and a tipi on his Texas home turf.

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