How I met the Metal Whisperer

Joseph Edward Jilbert was born on March 11 in 1956 (a remarkable Pisces Sun Sign and a Virgo Rising Sign)  to a Cherokee mother and a third generation Norwegian American.  Joseph (Jo Jo) grew up on a cotton farm situated on the Mississippi River on the Tennessee border in Hayti, Missouri.  One of 18 children, Jo Jo grew up in extreme poverty. When Jo Jo was only five years old his grandmother told all the children to look through the old Sears Catalog and circle in pencil the toys they each wanted.  She then told them to imagine they had them.  While the others were crying, Jo Jo asked for the catalog back!  Using the photos as a blueprint, he ran around the farm searching for rocks, pieces of wood, crops, tools, etcetera that resembled the shapes of the toys he circled. Once Jo Jo gathered enough material, he pieced together homemade versions of everything he wanted from that catalog.

Because the family often did not have enough for everyone to eat, Jo Jo planted his own secret garden of vegetables to eat.  Two years later at age seven, Jo Jo started experimenting with welding.  His first sculpture was a Catholic cross and his first buyer was the local Priest. The next year at the tender age of eight, Jo Jo was shipped off to Montana to a school for boys.  High school was spent in Job Core.  While still passionate about metal art, this is where he also studied carpentry and forestry.  Graduating top of his class in forestry earned him a $10,000 grant and a one-way ticket to any destination he chose. The Big Apple called out and off he flew.

“Studio 54” on 54th Street in Midtown Manhattan in the heart of Broadway in the 1980s became home to Jo Jo’s DJ career.  It was there that he built decorative sets with various theatrical elements to compliment his music, met celebrities and even my heart throb, Yul Brenner!  Over time Jo Jo perfected the art of making figures out of scrap metal.

In 1992 Joseph decided to move to New Orleans.  The fashion scene became a new passion with Jo Jo designing theatrical costumes.  A male version of Lady Gaga, Jo Jo was known for his love of exorbitant costumes. In New Orleans Joseph managed and owed a number of clubs and restaurants. After a while he started shifting more and more towards sculpting, and at this time Joseph established his art company “Vault”, with 14 employees.  From that point on, Jo Jo immersed himself into commercial neon art and metal sculptures.

Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August 2005 and uprooted everything,  including Joseph’s art studio and his work. With time in Dallas and Colorado and back to New Orleans, it was in 2018, when Jo Jo’s work was noticed by Zappos Founder Tony Hsieh. Tony was deeply moved by Jo Jo’s art, and he invited him to move to Las Vegas and be a part of the Downtown Project. Ever since then Jo Jo has resided in Vegas, where he continues to sculpt and teach metal sculpture.

Jilbert’s metal sculptures, which weigh anywhere from several pounds to more than a ton, include 20 foot tall figures, Indian warriors, robots and aliens. His work is complex, has lot of layers, and storytelling behind it.  Known as “The Metal Whisperer”, Jo Jo is passionate about teaching and donating his time to honorable causes. Ralph Godwin, a wealthy real estate investor, has purchased several of Jo Jo’s sculptures, which he later donated to The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.  Jo Jo’s works hang in private collections throughout the United States and are shown in prestigious galleries. Major private collectors include the following: Paul Allen (Architect), Joanna Villerrel (Oil Center), Glen Bordelon (Oil Companies), Danny McGlenn & Sally Fox Coclin (Circa 1857). The Oil Center of Lafayette Louisiana displayed several of Jo Jo’s sculptures for sale to wealthy businessmen and collectors who wanted them for their private collections. 

            Shortly after meeting Jo Jo, the late Harry Leo Duran, MD commissioned him to sculpt himself as the Dancing Doctor.  The somewhat small 2 foot tall portrait needed a base which took longer to create.  When the Notorious Doc died of COVID in November 2021, his widow (me) reached out to see if Jo Jo could find a buyer for the work.  He graciously accepted and the I brought the two pieces back down to Vegas to Jo Jo’s studio for him to rework the pieces for sale.  A portrait actually increases in value once the subject passes away. 

            To read more about Jo Jo, please click on the links below!

http://ilovelasvegasmagazine.blogspot.com/2016/09/dine-among-fine-art-at-therapy-with.html

https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/entertainment_life/art/article_a9f85d3d-450f-552a-a96f-7eec259bbaf1.html

https://www.yelmonline.com/stories/metal-whisperer-building-spaceship-ray-gun,106626

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