SALEM - Art in concrete.
It almost sounds like a contradiction in terms. Highways, autobahns, bridgeworks, tunnels, speedway walls, barriers and superstructures of all sorts, are called to mind.
But for Rick Lobdell, a 1992 Salem High School graduate who earned a masters of fine arts degree from Savannah College of Art and Design, concrete is a medium he is turning into an art form.
Rick Lobdell, a 1992 Salem High School graduate, has transformed his love of art into a high-demand business that uses concrete as its medium in central Tennessee. A 1996 Mount Union College graduate, Lobdell heads an internationally recognized company called Concrete Mystique with four employees and several subcontractors. Lobdell also creates his own artwork through paintings he sells. The dolphin pool, set onto a concrete floor, is where the concrete and art combine to present unique, highly-desired accents for high-end homes. (Contributed photo)
He works from a 6,400 square foot office and warehouse in Nashville, Tenn. He owns the company, called Concrete Mystique Engraving and considers himself part of a pretty elite group.
"I only know of five or 10 people in the world who treat it as an art form." Lobdell said.
"The average concrete guy has no idea of what I'm doing and I've never poured concrete."
Today, with two companies - he also owns a concrete furniture company called Gallery Mystique - Lobdell has four direct employees and four or five sub-contractors.
He moved on to Savannah after graduating from Mount Union College in 1996 to study at Savannah where he met his girlfriend who is now his wife, Natalie.
A molecular biologist, she headed toward Vanderbilt in Nashville.
"We met as undergrads," Lobdell said, "there was nothing there (Savannah) for her."
They moved to Nashville in 2003 where Lobdell was introduced to construction in 2004 with a company working in custom tile work and painting.
His education honed his instincts and he bought the company in 2007.
It's all decorative concrete and it has earned Lobdell a worldwide reputation for his designs and work.
There are multiple articles in national magazines, a segment on film in Tennessee Crossroads and The Concrete Show, and he was been invited to demonstrate his skills at the 2011 World of Concrete's Artistry in Concrete.
It would be difficult to explain it better than how he says it on his website.
"I look at spaces and try to imagine a composition that fits. It is not always about whether I am trying to make a great piece of art as much as finding unique ways to improve the design of a space. I like to collaborate with interior/landscape designers," he said.
In high school, Lobdell played soccer, track and baseball in his junior year and even life-guarded at the Salem Country Club before heading to Mount Union College.
While his market is Nashville and central Tennessee he loves finding jobs requiring travel.
"If you call me you're calling because of my quality," he said. In the south, the busy season is year round.
Today he has secured an international reputation turning his Concrete Mystique Engraving company, what many would consider a trade, into an art form, and a profitable one.
As unique as the business is, competition is thin when dealing with hand drawings, hand cuts and hand painting to capture the unique trappings and flavor in each home.
"We design to fit the house," Lobdell said, "when people walk through ... it looks like it should always have been there ... and matches the decor."
Lobdell views his employees as band members orchestrated to various pitches, crafts and refinements.
As a painting artist he has the capability of combining his talents and in a May/June 2013 edition of Concrete Decor Magazine he wrote a project profile piece explaining how the two come together for him.
His view is: "I let loose any idea, concept or imaginative visual I can come up with for each individual canvas I paint, and I sometimes change my mind along the way. A painting can travel anywhere I want it to until the day I sell it or even paint over it.
"In the decorative concrete world, that can't happen as easily. You get one shot at doing everything right. The interior and exterior must match, have the right scale and the right detail. While the daily work gets done, a part of you dreams to find that one client who changes your portfolio forever."
The story is titled "Concrete Artists Get a Chance to Create Their Dream Project" and Lobdell describes in detail work on the Godsey House in Chattanooga with prominent photo coverage (the story can be seen at www.concretedecor.net)
His work is also prominently featured in other magazines and a Google search on him name and "concrete artist" will return several pages on him.
He and Natalie have a five-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.
For more information, visit: www.concretemystique.com.