Martin Ulman discovered his passion for 3-D art in the 1960s while wandering through an abandoned train depot near East Boston, where he found a workshop filled with all kinds of interesting artifacts. He snatched up a handle, a round plate and several others objects and brought them to a body shop, where they were welded into a figurine of a soldier.
At the time, Ulman was an avid painter, but this moment shifted his artistic interests forever. “When I got to that third dimension, I never turned back,” Ulman explained. “It was clear that sculpture was what I was going to be doing.”
Now, Northeastern University is the beneficiary of Ulman’s incredible work. This month, Gallery 360 opened a new exhibit, “Seaships Airships Spaceships,” featuring a dazzling display of sculptures he’s created with “found objects” compiled from combing through junkyards, flea markets and the Internet.
The exhibit runs through Aug. 20.
To build a series of historical seaships — including a British slave ship and a Chinese treasure ship — Ulman used a range of discarded wood, including lobster traps, furniture, a cigar box, an ironing board and cable drums. To assemble his airships and futuristic spaceships, he used clever combinations of items such as fire extinguishers, metal egg beaters, nutcrackers, light fixtures, ice skates and even a pizza cutter.
Ulman said collecting unwanted artifacts and incorporating them into his work has granted them a second lease on life. Over the years, he has added to many of his detailed pieces with new gems from his relentless searches. “I love eBay,” he said. “You can find all sorts of great stuff there.”
Ulman has worked in the architecture industry his whole life, but notes that sculpture is his true passion. A lifelong Bostonian, he was born in Mattapan, lives in West Roxbury and has an art studio in Roslindale. His wife, Judy, works in the university’s Art + Design department in the College of Arts, Media and Design, and his son, Michael, AS’00, graduated with an art degree.
Does Ulman draw inspiration from the treasures he uncovers, or does he search for components to build what’s already conceptualized in his mind? He said it varies from project to project.
“Sometimes you find a piece and say, ‘I know what that looks like,’ and I’ll build off of that,” he said. “Other times, you’ll have an idea for something and you’ll have to go searching for pieces to bring it all together.”