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Alumni & FriendsSteven Backman pictured with his toothpick sculptures. Toothpick artist Steven Backman's pride and joy is a 4 and a half foot electric-powered yacht made of 100,000 toothpicks. Photos by Steven Backman.



Pick-Up Sticks
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:

-- Adrianne Bee


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Last modified Sept. 2 , 2005, by the Office of Public Affairs and Publications