Perhaps Steven Backman (B.A., '96) describes
his work best: "I make fine art from what is normally used to pick
things out of your teeth."
Although he made his first toothpick sculpture, a DNA molecule, in grade
school, Backman says his love affair with wooden sticks and glue blossomed
at SFSU. He was pursuing his degree in industrial arts when he made
a toothpick cable car for a humanities course exploring the culture
of San Francisco. He made a few more and wound up selling them to several
San Francisco gift shops.
"Steven has always been larger than life," says Professor
Cece Iandoli of the design and industry department. "He stood out
right away. His exuberance marked him."
After showcasing his unusual artwork in the Concourse Gallery inside
the Bank of America building in downtown San Francisco, Backman is applying
that enthusiasm to a series of abstract toothpick sculptures for next
year's exhibition in the Empire State Building's Fifth Avenue Gallery
in New York.
The abstract pieces mark a departure from Backman's earliest work, a
sort of "toothpick realism." Among his first toothpick sculptures
were San Francisco landmarks, including a 13-foot replica of the Golden
Gate Bridge. He's also been known to sculpt toothpick likenesses of
such public figures as President George W. Bush and David Letterman.
What inspires Backman to spend days, weeks and even years on a particular
sculpture? The challenge of the medium, he says. That medium includes
a variety of toothpicks -- flat, round, sure-grip and toothpick blanks
-- and standard white glue. He enjoys not only the process of gluing
the toothpicks together, but also knowing that the finished product
will be one of a kind. Backman's toothpick sculptures have been displayed
across the city in the Fairmont Hotel, Cable Car Museum, City Hall,
Legion of Honor Museum and Moscone Center. His Golden Gate Bridge, which
took two years of work and 30,000 toothpicks, now resides in Hollywood
at the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum.
Mayor Gavin Newsom has praised Backman for his "unique artwork,"
called him a "San Francisco treasure," and proclaimed Jan.
11, 2005, Steven J. Backman Day in San Francisco.
For more information: www.toothpickart.com
-- Adrianne Bee