Blaise Taylor’s home is filled with his art. An old piano is cluttered with wired figures; the walls are covered by dreamy, swirling paintings; wood sculptures stand tall on the floor. Taylor blends in like one of his own works.
“Art to me has been my whole life,” Taylor said.
Taylor is a tall man with a silver ponytail and Frank Zappa-esque facial hair. He wears a thick flannel jacket, a beaten hat and a worn pair of leather boots. He is the essence incarnate of Duluth.
If his house in the Central Hillside is any indication, Taylor is a well-versed artist. From painting vivid images to playing Americana accordion, to say Taylor has his fingers in many pies would be putting it lightly.
Taylor has been drawn to the arts ever since he was young. His father served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Everywhere he went, he made something.
“During the Battle of the Bulge he was in a little cabin with his platoon, and it was Christmas, and there was firewood. And he took a little piece of firewood, and he carved this little horse rearing up,” Taylor said. “And he used the gun black to stain it.”
His father’s sculptures were ever present during Taylor’s childhood, and they inevitably inspired him to be an artist.
Four years ago, at 83, his dad passed away. Taylor had been living at his parents’ home and was his dad’s primary caretaker. Emotionally, it took its toll.
“I kind of put a lot of myself aside because my dad couldn’t get out of a chair,” Taylor said. “I took him to the doctor. I cooked for him. I bathed him. I did all this stuff for him. I held him the day he died.”
It took its toll on family relationships. Since their father passed, Taylor and his seven brothers and sisters have rarely spoken.
“My dad was the glue that held my family together,” Taylor said.
But always the constructive one, Taylor has used the tragedies in his life to fuel the art for which he lives.
“It helps me dissipate anger,” he said.
When he was younger, Taylor played with a musical group named Wet Dog at Duluth’s Amazing Grace Bakery and Café. He remembers playing Americana-style accordion to small audiences. The band’s name was a random idea from another bandmate named Jim Hall.
“He just came up with it,” Taylor said. “I don’t know. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”
His artistic talent goes far beyond the accordion. Taylor is also adept at both the piano and the guitar. He dabbles in visual art. When houses are torn down, Taylor uses the leftover copper wiring to create tree sculptures.
“I call them dream trees,” Taylor said. “People like them.”
Taylor doesn’t make the trees for money, though. He has only given them away to a few of his close friends.
Not to be limited by traditional forms of art, Taylor’s most original form of art is making music from the sounds of passing trains. He likes to “crank the volume and get a little feedback,” giving it a strange musical quality.
The idea originally came when Taylor was living in Minneapolis. He was using a tape recorder in a studio with some of his friends, and they decided to bring it outside to find some interesting sounds. A nearby railroad was the most compelling source.
Taylor’s art isn’t exclusively pro bono. Taylor worked for Lizzards Art Gallery and Framing for a number of years and sold many of his pieces there.
“If I could be an artist full time, I could sell everything I made,” Taylor said.
For income, Taylor is a freelance carpenter. He is a member of a Duluth group of freelance carpenters.
“I’ve got so much (work) that I can’t do it all,” Taylor said. “There’s only one of me.”
Bob Olson is a fellow woodworker who does carpentry and custom remodeling alongside Taylor. Both are in agreement that there is a frustrating side to their work.
“There are lots of problems, very little payback,” Olson said. “We get it as close to perfect as we can get it, and then we never see it again.”
The two are more than coworkers though; they’ve been good friends since 1990. They hang out often and even play music once in a while. Olson is quick to comment on the Rennaisance man that is Taylor.
“(He’s) a walking encyclopedia,” Olson said. “The synopsis of Blaise Taylor? I’d have to work on that one.”