KSU grad’s art featured world-wide

Katie Corbut

He thought about being a doctor, but math really wasn’t his forte. Now, he’s a successful gallery artist and has been displaying his art worldwide for more than 33 years. Don Drumm, 75, graduated from Kent State University in 1958 with a bachelor’s in Fine Arts and master’s degree after a brief stint in Hiram’s medical school. Calculus promoted the big switch, and Drumm found himself completely immerged with the art world.

Drumm attributes his difficulties in math to his dyslexia, but believes that the disease has helped him in many ways. He struggled with reading and math the most, but found his sculpting class at Hiram to be his gateway into new possibilities.

“Some will never earn a living from their art work,” Drumm said. “Dyslexic people don’t have much of a choice. We’re visually oriented. I think it’s helped me in the long run. It’s more of a gift than a deterrent.”

At the time, Hiram offered only a few classes in art, which prompted Drumm to transfer to Kent. Outside of the art department, in his first year, Drumm was only enrolled in two classes, philosophy and aesthetics, so he was completely immersed in art and quickly found his niche.

Drumm completed his graduate-assistantship and was offered a job working for an industrial design firm in Akron as a sculpture designer. This is where he really started to branch out. Drumm was permitted to use the company’s foundry after-hours and began perfecting his craft.

As a third-generation metal-handler, it only seemed natural for Drumm to focus on metal as a medium. He’s considered one of the world’s leading pioneers in cast aluminum. In the 1950’s, Drumm brought craft objects and sculpture to center stage.

“A craft object is defined as art that not only has aesthetic value, but has a function,” Drumm said. “A beautiful bowl can also hold popcorn for example.”

Drumm said that he was lucky to have experienced art in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He believes that there was a real growth of people who decided that they didn’t want to teach and wanted to do something with their art. He said that those people jumped out to become glass blowers and potters when the time was right and individualism was important.

“It just so happened to be when I was around,” he said. “People attempted to survive on their own creativity.”

Looking around Crouse Street in Akron, you can see Don Drumm’s influence. He has 8 buildings that are all decorated to the nines, mostly with his signature sun emblem and an array of vibrant colors. Two of the buildings are offices where he houses his two guard dogs and 5 friendly cats. One quite heavy feline found his way onto my lap for this lengthy interview, Buddy was his name.

Floor to ceiling decorations color the interiors, and Drumm’s experience and worldliness definitely show. African masks line the walls as well as pottery and scatterings of Drumm’s work. Pieces from Bolivia, Nigeria and Liberia set a timeless tone that parallels the work of Don Drumm.

When asked about his success, Drumm was determined to voice his belief that his career was accidental. Things just seemed to work out.

For students pursuing art careers, Drumm advocates graduate school. He also believes that becoming part of an art community will greatly benefit anyone interested in making a living off of their artwork.

“Take time off if you can and go across the country. Particularly if you’re single and don’t have any commitments, try to find jobs that might supplement your artwork to get you going,” Drumm said. “Join art communities, become part of that spirit. I think locale is the greatest influence on one’s growth.”

Drumm said he lived through many phases of trial and error, but learned the most from people outside of his field. He feels that there need to be more collegiate classes geared towards how to succeed in the field.

“I never had courses telling me I had to know about contracts or learn how to make contacts with galleries or architects, or how to start a market,” he said. “My greatest sources were friends in business. My wife said the best way to learn was at the bars after craft shows, talking with gallery owners.”

Because of his consistent pursuit of success, Drumm’s studio is one of the few surviving galleries in the country.

Sean Keyser, 23 of Aurora, was browsing the cookware section of the gallery and was impressed with the quantity and quality of Drumm’s work.

Keyser is a graduate of Full Sail in Florida and the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He’s an aspiring photographer, graphic designer and singer/songwriter and believes that because Drumm’s work is so identifiable, it is very interesting and distinguished.

“Having a voice is the most important thing as an artist. I can walk through my house and it screams out at me,” Keyser said. “It’s easily identifiable. It’s always different, always interesting and always made out of the same stuff. It’s always Don Drumm.”

Keyser grew up around art and learned about Drumm over a Christmas break when everyone was looking for unique gifts.

“It’s a Christmas present haven,” he said. “It’s a great gift. It’s a uniquely beautiful thing.”

Drumm’s gallery is located at 437 Crouse St. in Akron and is open free to the public Monday through Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The gallery also features work from more than 500 local artists in addition to his.

Contact general assignment reporter Katie Corbut at [email protected].