A popular neighborhood for creativity, art galleries and studios is the diverse Crossroads Arts District neighborhood. The downtown, Kansas City vibrant block is home to more than 400 artists including Machine Head, the Metal Forming and Art Sculpture shop.
Machine Head is a machine and fabrication shop whose capabilities are diverse and designs range from simple to complex. Some of their prominent projects include GaterAde Victory Lane at the Kansas Speedway, Flight of Ideas at John Wayne Airport and the multimedia sculpture on ABC’s hit Extreme Makeover. Longtime business owner, Dick Jobe founded Machine Head in 1989. I spoke to Dick, who is affectionately called the “Mayor of the Crossroads,” about how it all began.
Growing Machine Head
Formerly known as “Dr. Volvo” for almost 25 years, Dick Jobe was a successful auto shop owner. After years of growth, Dick decided he had enough. “I could see the writing on the wall. We were too busy. Too many employees, and I wasn’t getting to work with my hands and be creative.”
After going back to school for advanced welding and receiving a degree in machine tool technology, Dick set up shop in 1998 and named it Machine Head. “I decided to do machine work in here, focused mainly on rebuilding turbochargers and cylinder heads for cars. It was right at that time when the Crossroads Art District started.” In the early 90’s art galleries began calling on him for metal work. It wasn’t long when Dick quit working on turbo engines and began working exclusively for art galleries like the Kemper Museum, Grand Arts and many others.
Machine Head Talent
Today Dick co-owns Machine Head with Gary Gardenhire, a 3D expert and almost all his employees are artists he’s met through the years. His first hire was an artist intern and he hasn’t shifted away from that.
“I’ve always hired interns from art schools. They haven’t necessarily been fabricators but they’ve had a good sense for art.” Art students from around the country have interned during his 20+ years, including KCAI, Savannah School of Arts, Ringling Art School, Virginia Commonwealth and the University of Northern Iowa to name a few. “We integrate them in. My philosophy is ‘Hire the Attitude-Train the Skill.’ I can take somebody with a good attitude, and within a few months I can have them welding at a reasonable level. But I can’t take someone with a bad attitude and change that.”
Two of his interns include Amie Jacobson and Beth Nybeck. “Beth came to me from the University of Northern Iowa with a degree in Sculpture. We worked with her for 7 years. She now has a outstanding career in Public Art and Sculpture. Amie Jacobson is from Savannah College of Art and Design with a painting and design degree. We began teaching Amie art metal fabricating and she became really good at it. She now has her own studio and has her art all over the country. I am very proud of being able to mentor these artists and see them become successful and still continue to work with them.
Every project that comes through the door is different and require A LOT of imagination. Dick laughed and said, “Sometimes I’m scratching my head at some of the ideas that come in.”
One of those projects was recently unveiled at Aspen’s W Hotel. Machine Head designed the one-of-a-kind suspended DJ booth, that takes its’ cue from the largest silver nugget discovered in Aspen at the turn of the century. “It took six months out of my life, and it was world-class fabrication skills that pulled it off.” Watch this video of the making of the W Aspen Silver Nugget.
With versatility, knowledge and imagination, the phenomenal artists work with a multi-variety of projects at Machine Head that are are designed, planned and fabricated within its walls. Whether it’s a simple machining or welding job, a complicated three dimensional sign, or fine art pieces requiring unequivocal precision–each receives acute attention to detail and master craftsmanship.
One day Dick will retire and sell Machine Head to Gary. But don’t expect him to be leaving the Crossroads anytime soon. “I’ll still be here after I “retire.” You’ll still find me in this office, picking my guitar, watching 18th and Charlotte street. And Gary will throw a little work at the old man.” he laughed. “And I’ll still be able to work with my hands.”