Defying Gravity

19 Mar 2018

Winter 2017/2018

Written By: Kelsey Dayton | Images: David Bowers

Ben Roth knew from the moment he learned to weld that he’d found something special.

“I found my medium,” he says. “It was like I’d made armor in my last life. It just felt right.”

It was 1999, and Roth was working on opening the restaurant Terroir in Jackson with several partners and investors. It had a metal design planned for inside and a shoestring budget. Fellow sculptor John Simms suggested he just teach Roth to weld so he could save money and do the work himself.

Welding allowed Roth to defy gravity in his work. He could take a metal rod and make it rise and stick out in space. He could cut two pieces of metal, weld them together, and they’d stay that way—forever.

Roth’s work can now be found all around Jackson. He crafted the 32 stingrays that fly from the locker room and encircle the waterslide on the ceiling of the Teton County and Jackson Parks and Recreation Center. He created the stainless steel deer on Broadway near where Walgreens once stood to remind people to watch for animals crossing the street. He made the benches in front of Rendezvous Bistro and the moray eel near the sushi prep station at Sudachi.

Roth always made art as a child, but his parents didn’t see that as a career path, so he studied hotel and restaurant management at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and took a job after graduating that included creating ice sculptures at the Las Vegas Convention Center. When they eliminated the sculptures, Roth quit and moved to Jackson, a place he’d visited with his family almost every summer while growing up in Colorado. He took a job at Rancho Alegre Lodge and after three days knew Jackson was his new home.

The natural environment inspires Roth’s work. He sees patterns outside in the branches of trees, the veins in rocks, and the braids of rivers. He points out the nuances he sees by creating art.

“I notice something in nature that viewers might not have seen to begin with, but when I bring it up in my work, they have kind of an ‘ah-ha’ moment,” he says.

While Roth primarily works with metals now, he also creates woodblock prints and custom, high-end furniture. He creates only about four pieces a year and approaches each the same way he would a sculpture.

“It has to function, but like a painting, it also has to look or feel a certain way,” he says.

It’s not just a creative outlet; each piece has to meet a specific person’s needs and tastes. But that, to Roth, is part of the appeal. He likes projects that challenge him and make him push himself creatively.

“I love the definition of adventure—the idea that the outcome is uncertain,” he says. “Success is not guaranteed. I like that in my life. If it doesn’t work, I’ll have learned a lot.”

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