The Arkansas Arts Council has selected Michael Warrick, a professor of art at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, as the 2020 Arkansas Living Treasure for his work and dedication to the craft of metalworking.
Warrick will be honored during a virtual event on Facebook and YouTube at 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8. The virtual event will include videos of Warrick’s work and a discussion about his methods. Speakers will include Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism, among others.
“We are excited to be able to offer a virtual event to honor a master of metalworking,” said Patrick Ralston, director of the Arkansas Arts Center. “It is important, especially during these troubling times, to recognize the leaders, educators, and master craftsmen and women who keep Arkansas’s rich cultural and arts heritage alive.”
The Arkansas Living Treasure program annually recognizes an Arkansas artist who excels in the creation of a traditional craft and who actively preserves and advances his or her craft through community outreach and educating others.
“I’m pretty excited about being named the 2020 Arkansas Living Treasure,” Warrick said. “I’m turning 70 this year. I’ve been working at my craft and trade for more than 50 years. It’s nice to be recognized for that.”
Warrick is known as a dedicated instructor who teaches multiple metalworking courses. He has remained committed to maintaining and advancing his craft through mentoring, teaching, lecturing, demonstrating, and building through teamwork.
“I love UA Little Rock,” Warrick said. “I love the students and the challenges. It’s always evolving. I’ve got some great colleagues to work with and a great new building to work in. This is my 30th year of teaching at UA Little Rock, but I’ve never stopped learning, and I’m still excited about teaching.”
Thomas Clifton, chair of the Department of Art and Design at UA Little Rock, described Warrick as an active and involved faculty member with a great passion for art and teaching.
“I am often amazed at his energy and determination,” Clifton said. “This combination of traits has allowed him to amass an unparalleled national exhibition records of 42 solo exhibits and 174 competitive and invitational exhibits over the course of his career. Michael’s prolific career has made it challenging to walk through Little Rock without coming across one of his sculptures. Michael is well represented throughout our city, like no other artist I know. His record of accomplishments is without equal.”
Warrick’s work has appeared in exhibitions and public installations locally and worldwide. He regularly does commission work, including a piece he created in 2017 for the Little Rock Sister City Commission to give to the City of Hanam in South Korea to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the sister cities partnership. A video about that project is available via UALRTV. Through his partnership with artist Aaron Hussey, Warrick created the Little Rock Central High School Commemorative Garden in 2001.
Warrick began learning metalworking in 1967, when he took an industrial arts class in high school that included welding. He became a certified welder in 1972 and worked on large-scale mining equipment trucks, industrial fixtures, and railroad cars.
He attended Illinois State University as an art student in 1976. There, he learned metal casting and sculpting, and as a graduate student, he learned to work with cast iron. By 1995, he had picked up the technique of ceramic shell casting, which allowed him to cast finer and thinner bronze works.
Warrick is constantly learning, experimenting, and evolving. In 2015, he learned 3D printing with polylactic acid plastic (PLA) and used the new technology in tandem with traditional lost wax casting for his metalwork. The resulting large-scale, 21-by-15-by-15-foot sculpture sits today outside the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. The sculpture is a fascinating mix of stainless steel, bronze, glass, and concrete that celebrates the Louisiana Purchase.
“I am a firm believer that there is much value to learning traditional methods for creating in cast metal,” Warrick said. “I am also curious about contemporary techniques in the production of objects and how they might be enhanced by joining old and new techniques.”
Since joining UA Little Rock in the fall of 1990, Warrick has been instrumental in securing grants, including one to build a foundry and kilns for metal casting for the university. Another grant allowed him to bring in renowned lecturers in metalworking. He also sat on a committee that brought public sculptures to the university to “embellish the culturally rich environment.”
“Creating and teaching are very important to me,” Warrick said. “I have made it a personal goal to help others learn and create through the craft of metalworking. In my own creative metalwork, it is my hope that I can bring elements of our humanity and history through the craft.”