I began my journey as an artist when I was 15. Inspired by my high school art teacher, I decided to become a potter, and built my own throwing wheel and kiln.
My obsession with forms and their fabrication guided me from clay pots to Industrial Design at the University of Illinois. There, the wizardly instructor Edward Zagorski introduced me to the dimension of creation beyond shaping and making: design. I soon learned it was the secret operator behind everything-automobiles, furniture, appliances, toys – and I was hooked.
This newfound enthusiasm for design brought a sense of play to my fascination with form and construction, and I soon recognized that designing children’s toys and games was the perfect synthesis of all of it. After graduation, I went to work for the independent Chicago-based toy genius, Marvin Glass. Shortly after Glass died I became CEO of Marvin Glass and Associates, and continued to run the company from 1976 until 1988. Then in 1988, Howard Morrison, Rouben Terzian and I established our own design firm, which became one of the largest independent toy design studios in the world. I was the president and CEO of our Big Monster Toys until 2008 when I stepped down to pursue full-time my first passion, sculpting.
Figurative bronzes into which I incorporated complementary sections of fallen trees comprise my earliest mature sculptural works. In the course of my walks through the Vermont woods in search of these trees, I found myself differently inspired. As a devoted hiker, I’ve always felt strongly connected to nature; and over time my interest in the scale, forms and surfaces of the fallen trees and limbs overshadowed my engagement with the fine, process-heavy work of casting bronze. During that period, I moved away from small figurative bronzes and toward large abstract sculptures defined by trees and tree limbs joined in graceful constellation with granite boulders.
Today my work is focused on abstract sculptures that combine granite boulders with shaped steel, balancing my love of nature with my joy in design. No matter the scale, whether it’s one of my massive outdoor works or one of my smaller tabletop pieces, I want to engage and intrigue the viewer. I enjoy the playful yet often profound interaction between boulders that I’ve found and steel structures that I’ve fabricated. When these beautiful granite boulders millions of years old are placed in dialogue with freshly created steel forms, I find that energy irresistible. And that, I hope, will resonate with the viewer.
A distinguished University of Illinois alum, in 2013 Jeffrey was honored with the Illini Comeback accolade and saw his sculpture New Day installed permanently in U of I’s Research Park in Champaign.