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From aviation to creation: Las Vegas artist John Stoelting tinkers with ‘experimental archeology’

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Posted at 11:07 AM, Nov 01, 2021

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — John Stoelting likes to make things. Well, most things. Not swords.

"There’s a lot of people who make swords. I like butter knives," he said.

As an artist, he’s inspired by something so many of us take for granted. Ordinary, everyday objects.

Aviation and creation

Stoelting is an art teacher at UNLV and the department’s facilities manager, which means, "I basically just fix things.”

Fixing things is something he’s been doing all his life.

“When I was a little kid, I was always taking clocks and stuff apart," he said. "As I got a little older and into high school, it was more like I couldn't afford to buy a lawnmower, so I'd get one off the side of the road and fix it.”

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Messing with mechanics only fueled his curiosity.

"I like to figure out what's behind the mystery," he said. “When I was a kid I always figured I'd go into space or fly an airplane or something."

After high school, he earned an associate's degree in aviation maintenance and spent some time building parts for airplanes and satellites.

Stoelting uses science to help answer the how and why behind life’s everyday little mysteries, but he says art helps with that, too. "They're really a lot closer together than people tend to realize,” he said.

For as long as he’s been tinkering he’s also been creating artwork. When he was a child he was into sculpting.

"I really liked clay as a kid, and whittling, and wood," he said. "I did some painting and some drawing, but for the most part, I was always into sculpting and ceramics.”

Eventually, he says the art won out.

'Miscellaneous Debris' and experimental archaeology

Stoelting moved to Las Vegas from the Midwest to attend graduate school. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Herron School of Art and Design in Indiana and has a Master of Fine Arts from UNLV.

"Las Vegas has kind of become white noise to me, like the [Las Vegas] Strip and stuff like that," he said. "I think the desert influences my work a lot more.”

Recently, he started showing his work again, calling it "part experimental archaeology.”

Stoelting says right now he's making lots of small metal castings and objects "on the verge of jewelry."

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In October, he was the featured artist at Available Space Art Projects, an experimental art space in Las Vegas, with a show called "Miscellaneous Debris."

It was his first show in six years. His first show since becoming a father.

"It wasn't really an intentional hiatus, it just kind of happened."

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John's daughter, Faye. (John Stoelting)

Now that she’s a little older, Stoelting says his daughter, Faye, helps him with his art. They go hiking and find raw materials for his work, like different kinds of metals for smelting or interesting rocks to polish.

"She gets her own sack and she'll get the reds or the greens or whatever for the day.”

Recreating history

If you couldn’t tell already, Stoelting is a history buff, which is part of what inspires him, too.

"I’m very interested in the Bronze Age and the late Neolithic," he said.

"I think part of that is just because you could go out with a couple of rocks and create a society. I mean, the people were really making everything I've got here today out of just the natural raw world," he said. "And doing it by hand. Doing it without electricity or the internet."

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Stoelting creates historical reproductions with some of the materials he collects, such as the Bronze Age razor and mirror below.

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On the left: A knife and a razor on the foreground of a table full of objects. On the right: a mirror. All objects were made by John Stoelting. (John Stoelting)

At the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art on UNLV's campus, kids can touch and feel a bronze chisel while learning about Aztec history because Stoelting made one just for that.

"A 1500-year-old bronze chisel, you know, made by the Aztecs is not something you really want to pass around,” he said.

"I wanted to create some pieces that can actually be handled for their educational programs."

To better understand

Stoelting says the big takeaway for his work, at least for his "Miscellaneous Debris" show, is pretty straightforward.

"That hairpin is a hairpin, the knife is a knife. There really isn't any grand concept behind it," he said. "So it's really very much about the objects, I think.”

Still, every object he showed me had a story. Including the little ecosystems on his desk where he works.

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John Stoelting smooths out an object on his desk from metal he smelted. (Amy Abdelsayed, 13 Action News)

Stoelting says he collected samples from the wetlands with his daughter to make the ecosystems.

"I wanted her to see sort of the scale of the world and understand that there are lots of, you know, little things. I guess so she can see that she's really giant," he said with a laugh. "Even though at the time, I don't think she was quite five yet."

So much of what he makes is to better understand.

Available Space Art Projects is located inside New Orleans Square on 900 E Karen Avenue in Las Vegas. The gallery is inside suite C-214. Learn more at availablespaceartprojects.com.

This story is from our "Las Vegas Art Scene" segment in our newly-launched dedicated digital show "How to Vegas." Watch "How to Vegas" at 10:30 p.m. on Fridays -- and throughout the weekend -- using the KTNV app on your favorite streaming device.

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