Over a long and active career as a sculptor of steel, Karl Stirner stood alone in the creation of formidable body of work that is not replicated by anyone else. A self-confessed collector of many things, Stirner’s most essential collections consists of industrial scrap-metal which he unapologetically relies on for his sculptures. Stirner so transforms his industrial scrap it appears at times in his work as an exotic material. Unlike prominent Modernist sculptors, most notably Richard Stankiewicz and John Chamberlain, who used scrap metal including identifiable automobile and machinery parts in their works, Stirner so transforms such items by forging, chasing, bending ,and heating them, that identification, is almost completely negated.
By 1941, the young Karl was already working as an industrial designer and mechanical engineer. At the outset of World War II, Stirner served in the U.S. Army in Pacific combat zones. Returning home at war’s end, he opened a machine shop in 1946 and began developing unique precision machines while exploiting the possibilities of welded steel fabrication. This led to the opening of a metal arts studio in 1948 where he designed and produced custom metal furniture and screens, architectural sculpture, ornamental panels, and sculptural forms. In 1955, he became an instructor at Moore College of Art and in 1957 became the Director of the Metal Department at Tyler School of Art, Temple University. He then opened Karl Stirner Ornamental Ironworks in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1956.
Stirner’s first major solo exhibition at the Delaware Museum of Art in 1960 launched his career, spanning the following years with a series of major solo and group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and others. He became engaged in world travels, ran an art gallery, began collecting art, encouraged development projects for artists, but overall was more and more empowered toward his goal of making sculpture full time for the next 55 years. Stirner’s move to Easton, PA in 1983 launched his most prolific and important body of sculptural work.