People change their careers every day, and, in some cases, it happens randomly and without warning. This was the case for John Lacz, 67, a former body shop owner who is now a nationally acclaimed sculptor with pieces in galleries that sell for as much as $9,000.
Lacz's career as a body shop owner wasn’t anything unusual--father moonlights fixing cars while his 10-year-old son learns the business.
“I knew pretty quickly that working on cars was my passion,” Lacz said. “I wanted to learn as much about the trade as I could, so I worked for three different shops and built a few cars over a five-year period.”
Then, in 1972 Lacz opened his own shop in Manchester, NH. The 22-year-old put his name on the door (Lacz Body Shop) and assembled a crew of one.
“It was just me at the beginning,” he said. “I focused on doing frame-off restorations, but we also did collision repair as well. At times, I would be working on four or five cars simultaneously, and pretty soon my customer list started to grow.”
One day, John’s wife Terry asked him to go out and find a piece of art to put in their flower garden at home. After searching high and low for a good piece of sculpture that would work in the couple’s back yard, Lacz made a snap decision that would change his life.
"I couldn’t find anything out there that she liked" he said. “So I made something myself. I had never done anything like this before, but I knew how to paint the piece once I was done with it, so I gave it a shot.”
After the sculpture was complete, Lacz painted it at his shop and pretty soon this one-time need became a part-time hobby and eventually a full-time job. His eye-catching wood sculptures and unique steel figures started gaining attention almost immediately.
Lacz’s wood carvings vary from three feet to nine feet high and are finished with Sherwin-Williams chameleon-like multi-tone paints.
"The pigments contain crystals grown to act like prisms and they actually change color based on light refraction, giving it that unique look," Lacz said. “I really enjoy creating my own colors to make my sculptures one-of-a-kind.”
Lacz's metal sculptures are made of solid steel and are painted with automotive paint, so that they can survive the relentless winters in the East. However, not every art buyer uses the original Lacz the same way.
"Clients are fascinated with the form, imagery and coloration John is creating," Lee Forgosh of Art 3 Gallery in Manchester NH said, one of several art studios where Lacz's creations are displayed. "He has sold major sculptural pieces to people with indoor gardens, but the form doesn't have to be in a garden setting. The pieces stand on their own as true art."
As Lacz’s art career began to flourish, he started to move toward the exit signs of his body shop. “I began to think about getting out of this business and the art helped me to do it” Lacz said. “Several things all happened together that made the decision easier. My #1 employee had a heart attack right here at the shop, so I began to ask, why am I pushing myself so hard? I was 63 at the time and I could see that I was losing the passion for this industry. So, after 38 years in this industry, I stepped away in 2010. I realized that pursuing my passion for art was more important than money.”
Today, Lacz is a full-time professional artist, living half the time in New Hampshire and the other half in Florida. Currently, he has pieces in five galleries between the four states. “I make a point of visiting all of the galleries at least twice during the year,” he said. “To see my work in these fancy galleries is a rush every time.”
Now instead of juggling DRPs and worried about his cycle times, Lacz is able to retreat to his studio and simply create, without the multiple headaches associated with owning any business, let alone a body shop.
What does Lacz miss about owning a body shop?
“I used to love the satisfaction I got after restoring a car and then seeing the owner when he saw the finished product,” Lacz said. “I get that same feeling when someone buys one of my pieces and puts it in their garden, living room or office. What I don’t miss are the insurance companies. Now as a sculpture, I don’t have to play their little games anymore. I can dictate my own rates with my sculptures and I don’t have to listen to some college kid about how I should do it!”