From Burning Man to Tim the Tool Man: A Phoenix Artist Makes His History Channel Debut

Sean T French with his "New Things" exhibit at the Icehouse.
Sean T French with his "New Things" exhibit at the Icehouse. Christy Ward French
For years, Phoenix-based artist Sean T French has been showing his futuristic sculptures in local galleries and gatherings like Burning Man.

Now, the rest of the world will get a peek at his body of work, which often blends history, science, and mythology: He's appearing on a new TV series called Assembly Required, which premieres February 23 on the History Channel at 8 p.m., Phoenix time.

French is one of three makers featured on the first episode of the show, which is hosted by Tim Allen and Richard Karn, who starred in the '90s sitcom Home Improvement, along with DIY woodworker and YouTube personality April Wilkerson. The network describes it as “a new competition series that spotlights the best and brightest builders from across the country.”

French says he learned about the show last spring after a casting representative saw his Instagram page and reached out about applying to participate. He learned he’d been chosen in August, but had to keep the news under wraps until just a few days ago.

“It feels like all this happened during a time when people really couldn’t go out and do anything because of the pandemic,” French says. “It’s really weird that I was able to just work in my studio and the whole world could be my audience.”

The 10-episode series shows makers in their home workshops, where they’re tasked with challenges that test a wide range of technical skills and problem-solving abilities. For French, that's the three-car garage for his Peoria home, which he's converted into an art studio.

French competes against Alex Coplo, a self-taught maker specializing in architectural models, and Jesse Jennings, whose experience includes fabrication and repairs for homes and cars. Naturally, they can’t reveal the outcome before the episode airs.

As the lone sculptor on the first episode, French will draw on his experience working with aluminum, brass, copper, and steel to create artwork that often references female power and incorporates techniques used in making medieval body armor.

His work was part of the Burning Man Multiverse in 2020, a virtual experience presented by the Burning Man community that decided not to gather at Black Rock City in Nevada due to the pandemic.

click to enlarge
A wearable sculpture by Sean T French.
Sean T French
Nearly two decades ago, French’s wife, Christy Ward French, wore a sculptural piece he calls "monarch wings" to Burning Man, and he’s shown work at numerous regional Burning Man events in Arizona and Texas.

“I’m really active in the burner community, and I’m glad to see interactive art being taken more seriously,” he says.

His sculptures have been exhibited in several local spaces, including Alwun House and Walter Where?House. Most recently, French showed more than a dozen pieces as part of the “New Things” exhibit at the Icehouse.

He says he'll be watching the first episode of Assembly Required with a few friends and neighbors. “I haven’t seen how it all came together, so in a way it all feels like it’s happening right now.”

Every episode includes two challenges. First, makers get 90 minutes to create something with objects from a curated mystery box. Only two makers progress to the second challenge.

For the second round, makers get another mystery box, and five days to meet a new challenge that includes an unexpected twist. Then they ship their work off to Allen’s studio for the final round of judging. “They spent five days at my studio in October,” French recalls. “Then I had to package my work up and send it off.”

The winner of each episode gets $5,000. Win or lose, French says he's glad for the experience.

“I’m excited about shining a light on the Arizona arts community, and it’s been a great opportunity to continue to bloom and grow.”
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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble