John Hechinger was in the business of selling utilitarian objects, things people used every day but didn't always notice.
But Hechinger thought there was art in hammers and nails, saws and scissors. And he found artists who employed these everyday objects in unique ways in their work.
The result is "ReTooled," a new exhibit at the Louisiana Art & Science Museum that shows some of those "tools" in all their beauty and humor. "Highlights from the Hechinger Collection," which is on tour by the International Arts & Artists of Washington D.C., showcases some 40 works, many by noted artists.
" 'ReTooled' is a fun, engaging exhibition that prompts us to think about a familiar subject — tools — in a whole new way,” said Elizabeth Weinstein, LASM's director of interpretation and chief curator. “The result of engineering and imagination, tools are designed to solve problems and fashioned for specific functionality yet are interesting in and of themselves.”
Hechinger's family was in the hardware business. His dad, Sidney, opened the first Hechinger Hardware in 1911. Sidney Hechinger and his brother-in-law grew the store into a renowned chain with more than 200 locations throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The senior Hechinger is credited with helping transform the neighborhood hardware store into the do-it-yourself home improvement business.
Hechinger's son, John, eventually took over and established the company's headquarters in the nation's capitol. But, as seen in this collection, his interests expanded far beyond the practical.
Hechinger began looking at the wares of his business in terms of art, amassing a thought-provoking collection revolving around tools.
The artwork was a mainstay at Hechinger's district headquarters until 2003, when John and his wife, Julie Ross Hechinger, donated it to International Art & Artists.
"The show celebrates the prevalence of tools in our lives," said LASM exhibits coordinator Beth Welch. "This show transforms them into objects of beauty and wit."
Take, for example, Hans Godo Frabel's 1980 sculpture "Hammer and Nails." Its beauty is also its irony.
"It's all made of glass," Welch said. "It's beautiful, but then think about it. Who would use a glass hammer to hit a nail? It would shatter, and all of the glass nails around it would shatter, too. That's part of the humor you'll find in this show."
"ReTooled" fills the museum's main galleries both downstairs and upstairs and is divided into sections: "Material Illusions," "Objects of Beauty," "Tools as an Extension of Self and Satire."
"We have a paint can by the artist Phyllis Yes upstairs," Welch said. "The can is something industrial, but she makes it a feminine object by covering it with lace."
Lee A. Schuette also re-imagines the meaning behind a tool in his 1982 sculpture "Cross-Cut Saw." The saw is made of wood, making it completely useless as the tool it represents, yet at the same time, it celebrates the tool that shaped it.
Hechinger commissioned Stephen Hansen's satirical 1985 papier-mâché sculpture "Man on a Limb," where a man holds tight to the outer edge of a board while he saws it from its trunk.
"It's just funny," Welch said. "I think it was chosen for its humor."
One of the show's most intriguing pieces, "Cut," features Christopher Plowman's supersized pair of scissors slicing through a metal sheet of polished steel.
On the far side of the gallery is F.L. Wall's 1983 sculpture "Summer Tool," which shows a lawnmower and the grass it is cutting carved out of oak.
Artist Arman's 1988, "Blue, Red, Brown," places paint brushes — those "behind the scenes objects" — at the forefront.
And in creating his 1989 sculpture of welded antique wrenches, "The Long Road to Usefulness," Hugh R. Butt wrote that it was his belief that "it sometimes takes a long time before tools find their proper usefulness."
"ReTooled" is complemented by an exhibit of 19th century tools on loan from the LSU Rural Life Museum in the neighboring Colonnade Gallery, which also is playing host to a variety of tools-related hands-on activities.
'ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection'
A traveling exhibit by the International Art & Artists, Washington, D.C.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Through Aug. 7.
WHERE: Louisiana Art & Science Museum, 100 S. River Road.
ADMISSION/INFO: $9; $7.50, ages 3-12 and 65 and older. (225) 344-5272 or lasm.org