“I live in a group home,” Patrick Hackleman announces upon greeting me at his door. “Since you’re a stranger I just wanted to let you know that the house isn’t mine.”
Stepping into Hackleman’s middle-class home, I am taken by its normalcy. The aromas of dinner being prepared and the din of a televised basketball game mingle in a lazy, comfortable haze. “I like living in my group home, I still go bowling and to the store,” Hackleman tells me. “I may live there for a long time. The only negative is that they won’t let me have a cat.”
Hackleman ushers me downstairs to a room that serves as both his bedroom and his studio space. Initially it is difficult to ascertain the identity of the objects contained in his inventory. As I survey the accumulation of years of reference material and completed artworks, the scene begins to sort itself out. This multipurpose space is more organized than it first appeared.
Hackleman picks up one of his comics, “Sonic the Hedgehog, The Return of Princess Sally,” an adaptation of an original Sonic the Hedgehog comic by the same name. This homage is nestled inside a handmade and hand-illustrated boxed edition. The box features approximately 15 individual, staple-bound stories made from color photocopies of Hackleman’s original comics. He has completed two boxed editions and is working on a third; each consist of over 300 color-saturated pages.
In addition to these elaborate multivolume editions, Hackleman publishes his work on CD-ROM. He hands me a small box, also handmade, containing a disk with an illustrated label and a paper insert and then he says, “This is for you. I’ve been giving them to my friends.”
I gesture toward a stack of rolled drawings. Upon closer inspection, they appear to be based upon the plans of old warships. I ask Hackleman about this, and he responds that most of his drawings are inspired by books of ship blueprints and store-bought blueprint copies.
“I change the scale myself,” he says as he nods to a drawing in process on his desk. “This ship was sunk early on in the Civil War and no real plan exists for it, just a painting of it, so I am drawing it at 1:144 scale.” For this calculation Hackleman uses a tiny promotional calculator and a chipped 12 inch ruler.
Hackleman informs me that he has been drawing in this manner for many years—it all started when his former shop teacher showed an interest in his work, “I made my first model and drew my first ironclad in shop class in seventh grade and have been drawing them ever since. I find my plans in books about ships or online.”
While at first glance his ship drawings may look like typical technical drawings, Hackleman’s particular sensibility is guided by his own hand. Unlike the formality required in drafting,he uses instruments that are not perfectly adapted for precise measurement. Though the drawings have been mistaken for mere reproductions, they are not. Reimagining the technical plans is essential to Hackleman’s work and, like the Sonic comics, his ship drawings are adaptations.
Careful inspection of what initially seem to be mechanically-fabricated lines show the mark, flex, and variety of a free hand. The straight lines give way to a gentle, and somewhat hypnotic, swell.
Hackleman’s drawings begin to emerge as akin to Shaker gift paintings or drawings. A religious sect founded in the eighteenth century, members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming were more commonly known as Shakers. During a revival in the mid-nineteenth century, some Shaker women converts, regarded as “instruments,” intuited a divine influence in the process of drawing or painting intense, ecstatic spiritual messages.
Unlike Hackleman, most Shaker adherents chose an insular and institutional life, yet Shakers were engaged in many aspects of highly successful, innovative, and robust commercial endeavors. These Shaker instruments likely found inspiration for their designs in the sources of their day such as embroidery, Masonic imagery, and the beautiful, twining cursive associated with Spencerian handwriting.
It is the function, utility, and ethereal quality of these creative products that forge a union between these somewhat unlikely makers. Both Hackleman and Shaker adherents are intent upon the use of their creations as both gift and device. In the case of the Shaker drawings these spiritual charts were fraught with meaning and were—in the most literal sense—gifted to other members in their community. These gifts may have been given to encourage greater spiritual inspiration in prayer.
Similarly, Hackleman’s ship drawings and his comics are both inspired by the world around him and intended as gifts. He is clear, however, that his Sonic adaptations are more designed for gifting than his boat drawings. Both forms of Hackleman’s art are calculated specifically in how they improve the outcomes for the subject matter.
Most Hackleman’s ship drawings are based on warships of the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. He seems particularly partial to vessels that did not fare well in naval warfare. In his adaptations, he often subtly alters the design to include greater safety features. His improvements include the addition of lifeboats or, in the case of ironsides, metalwork that is thicker or placed in areas that he believes to be under-armored.
Hackleman’s Sonic the Hedgehog adaptations are likewise altered to give his subject an optimal chance of survival. According to Hackleman, the original Sonic the Hedgehog comics typically do not have endings which are sufficiently “positive.” His impulse is to change that. “It was just recently, after reading Sonic [number 230] in which I saw terrible things happening that I realized that I can make my own comics. I wanted to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel for Sonic and his friends. I like to keep the casualties on the hero side as close to 0 as possible.”
Like the Shakers before him, when Hackleman is not working on his art, he spends his days employed in a trade that is an integral part of local commerce. He is employed at a wood products business and relies on public transportation to get there. From 8 a.m. to noon, Hackleman sorts and stacks wood. Though it is a supported business environment, the business operates like most others. “I’ve been there since 2001 and I like it, I like the money best,” he tells me. “Pretty much when I’m done I go home and do what you call…my artwork.”
Neither the Shaker instrument makers nor Hackleman regard their work as “art.” Despite this, three afternoons a week Hackleman works out of the Makers’ Studio at ArtWorks (CEI) in downtown Corvallis. He has also taken part in multiple art exhibitions.
Hackleman’s first exhibit took place in November 2014. It was a pop-up exhibition produced by OUTPOST1000 and featured his ship plans, Sonic the Hedgehog comic adaptations, and scale boat models that he forged from bits of plastic, wood, and the remains of store bought models. Later this winter, Hackleman will be a part of a two person exhibit at the Corvallis Art Center’s Corrine Woodman Gallery.
More recently, Gallery Christian Berst art brut (NYC) has introduced Hackleman’s work. Gallery Director, Phillip Jones, also notes the role of intention in Hackleman’s work, “Patrick Hackleman’s re-imagining of fictional characters, battleships, and video games speaks to the most basic of human desires; to re-cast the world in our own image and shape both the past and future in the process.”
Upon hearing that he sold his first art piece, one of his ship models, Hackleman still reflects on survival, “I am glad that I had the guts to make these things, and that people like them, because I want them to live for a long time after I am gone.”