Luke Achterberg 

Luke welding in his studio
Luke welding in his studio

Wisconsin native Luke Achterberg is a successful working artist. His chilly, utilitarian Northside La Crosse studio is where the artistic magic happens. Luke is a sculptor; his medium is metal, his method is welding, and he loves to “go big.”  We must ask, where would he be without his Western Welding Degree?  

Luke took a convoluted and explorative education path. He started UWL as a biology major for the practicality of it, and he had a knack for it, too. A year and a half into the program, and it was the memorization of Latin names that gave him pause, so a natural drift back to the artistic side of things proved inevitable. A sculpture course with an impressive professor reignited an interest that would stay. Fast forward five years: Luke graduated from UWL with a double major in art and psychology, a philosophy minor, and many Spanish classes. Luke realized he wanted to make giant outdoor sculptures, and to help him do that; he enrolled in Western’s welding program.   

Luke’s childhood home and family life provided and nourished early clues to his current standing. Luke comes from a family of covert creatives who love working with their hands at automotive customization, mechanics, and welding. Visually, he remembers his grandpa welding—the contained fire and orange glowing metal piqued his interest. As a child, Luke would get in trouble for drawing imaginative made-up cars during math class, a foreshadowing of future Luke.  

  His inspiration deeply draws from exciting places: the familial model of working on cars, the art and philosophy of Dr. Suess, comic books, street graffiti, and calligraphy. Automotive customization, skateboarding, and snowboarding cultures are used to achieve a popping aesthetic, balanced with pleasing curves. Not to be discounted are the traditional skills like blacksmithing and fundamental art concepts in academic training, like composition, balance, and movement.   

After completing his degrees, Luke worked locally as a project welder to save money before finishing his MFA with a focus on sculpture and ceramics at the University of Kentucky. After a decade of Kentucky living, Luke and his family moved back to La Crosse to enjoy grandparents, the bluffs and winter sports—they deeply missed winter! The adage about absence and the heart growing fonder may be true.   

In addition to his formal education, Luke is a lifelong learner with a passion for creating. He is continually exploring his craft. With so many interests, the artistic route enables Luke to combine many affinities and skills into something beautiful and unexpected. The hardest thing for him is the business side of how to finance his life as an artist. He is always on the hunt for free or cheap metal.   

He has found success through commissioned pieces, and he leases sculptures to temporary homes across the country, from large public spaces to galleries to sculpture gardens. One of his pieces resides at the 1802 Gallery on State Street in La Crosse; go check it out! Luke’s diverse interests and education continue to serve him well, and he is grateful for the opportunity to share his art with the world. “If I hadn’t gone to Western for the welding degree and gained this process knowledge,” he said, “I couldn’t do what I’m doing.”  

Luke’s sculpture was jury selected for the 2022 Wisconsin Artists Biennial at the Museum of Wisconsin Art. He has received several prestigious awards for his art, including recognition from the International Sculpture Center in New Jersey and Art-St-Urban in Switzerland.