“Ordinary is Not an Option”: Nathan Hatch, Sculptor-Designer

Meet Nate Hatch, born and bred in Door County, son of two respected artists and a fully-emerged professional artist himself at 27, evidenced by his hand-made furniture, gigantic outdoor metal sculptures and the newer and more personal metal graphic designs. His body of work shows a distinctive style within the three distinctly different mediums and his work can be seen in major galleries from Door County to Milwaukee’s 3rd Ward to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

While we strolled around the family business, Fine Line Designs Gallery in Ephraim, what struck me first about Nate was his combination of creative artist and businessman. He talked about his “bread and butter” furniture business as opposed to the “out on a limb” more internal work developed this past year as a Master of Fine Arts candidate at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. We walked into his workshop to see the current work-in-progress, two large abstract metal sculptures titled “The Brothers.” He wanted me to see this work first because it represents a coming together of his earlier emphasis on technique, but now combined with a more personal point of view. The two pieces definitely “fit” together in the mind’s eye and according to Nate are an expression of his relationship with his brother, Carlin. “I’ve described my earlier work with metal, wood, and stone as ‘abstract expressionism with industrial overtones.’ What I’m doing now is more organic, more impressionistic.” I asked about his process of creation and he continued, “Something starts the pencil on the paper. Then there’s deciding the right material, the right angle, the right end result for each project. I’ll be sketching something and I’ll decide clearly, nope this is a design piece, and I’m going to push the scale [to make it] an outside piece and use steel and outdoor materials; or, this is a conceptual piece and I’m just going to let it evolve. ‘The Brothers’ are design based but I’ve been working on them simultaneously and they’re conceptual in their relationship to each other.”

Nate Hatch at work on his sculpture, “Slumber.”

When we left his workshop to look at some of his older pieces in Fine Line’s sculpture garden, we were tickled to see a child crawling in and out of one of his sculptures. This interaction of people with art is a special thing with Nate. He loves kids touching and relating to the spatial part of his work and it’s why outdoor metal sculpture gives him the most pleasure. “The biggest satisfaction I get is when I see people integrating my art into their everyday life, whether they sit by it on their lunch break in an urban setting or it’s in their own backyard. My art is part of their environment, it’s part of the landscape. I feel that the more art we have around us both elevates us and reflects where our values are.”

These serious philosophical snippets that kept popping up in our conversation prompted me to ask what it was like growing up as the son of two full-time professional artists. He said he had learned as a boy that building or making something was just what was done in his family and that it was done with careful attention. His dad, David, is an expert furniture craftsman whose business is Fine Line Classics and his mom, Wendy Carpenter, is a fiber artist operating out of her Interfibers Design Gallery in Fish Creek. I had earlier asked his mom if Nate inherited any particular style from his parents. She responded, “His technique, construction, and ability to design and craft things were from David and now Nate has taken all this to a more conceptual level which is more like my work. He learned early on that art is a business and he’s a very hard worker.”

The parental support Nate received continued with his Gibraltar high school mentor, Bob Merline, who said, “Nate was a premier art student – dedicated and hard working. In his very first class he demonstrated strong ability with three-dimensional concepts and materials. It has been a pleasure to witness his growth – building on those early achievements and establishing himself as a very successful artist.”

Nate carried his penchant for hard work to graduate school where he is now learning from another mentor, Gary Bibbs, the head of the department and, according to Nate, “a big fabricator who specializes in large outdoor pieces.” In addition to carrying a full academic load, Nate mentors others as a teaching assistant. “I thrive in academia and definitely want a combined studio and academic career,” he noted.

Ty Johnson plays on the finished “Slumber” sculpture.

We ended up inside the gallery looking at Nate’s unique furniture. I noticed an oriental touch so I asked him if he was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. He smiled and wisely replied, “Isn’t every artist? I don’t use a lot of decorations. I try to get back to the core, the steel, the wood, the slate, the bronze and soften them and make them really approachable. I think it’s tactile and elegant at the same time.” Tactile and elegant is an appropriate description for all of Nate’s art.

It seems every artist’s goal when developing a body of work, no matter what the medium, is to arrive at that internalized representation of themselves called personal style; it’s why Frank Lloyd Wright’s work is so recognizable. For some, this takes time to develop but Nate seems to have discovered it early. “Pieces are ultimately self portraits and I’ve concentrated on letting my work be a reflection of me as the artist,” he explained. “We all have walls around us. The difference is how we define those walls and how well fortified they are. My newest sculptures are vessel based and [either] are very open and inviting or closed off and tight. Some have steel tops and hinges and you think you can open them but you can’t. We have the potential to let people in but how often do we?”

Looking for more of these personal insights, I asked Nate what made him different from other artists in his field. “Once I see something in my head, it just goes from there,” he said. “My professor describes me as someone who hits the ground running. I’m always working and my friends and family say, ‘Relax,’ but I love it and it’s who I am.”

On August 6th through September 11th Nate shared a show at Fine Line with painter Pam Murphy. He spent much of his summer preparing for that event which included some of his vessels fabricated in Kentucky and exhibited for the first time in Door County.

My last question to him was meant as a bit of a tease:  “What’s the coolest thing about you?” He replied with a twinkle in his eye:  “I don’t need to relax, in fact, I hate down time. I always like to have several things on the burner at the same time.” The twinkle turned serious as he continued saying, “You have to keep learning and not get stuck doing one thing; just keep moving forward. That’s why I thrive in the hustle and bustle of a university setting – always learning, always having 10 things to do. It brings out the toughness as well as the best in you. It also helps me keep pushing myself. Ordinary is just not an option.”

“Is that who you are?” I asked. His answer:  “I like to think so.”

For more information visit Nate’s website at or visit Fine Line Designs Gallery located at 10376 Highway 42 in Ephraim, on the web at, or by phone (920) 854-4343. The gallery is open daily May through October 10:00 to 6:00 and 10:00 to 5:00 on Sundays. It is open weekends year round.

Related Organizations