Hargarten: The artist behind Sprecher tapper handles

By Colleen Jurkiewicz - Special to The Freeman

Jan. 3, 2018

 Cedarburg artist Mark Hargarten starts with real fruit when designing his beer tap prototypes.
Photo by Mark Justesen

CEDARBURG — When Mark Hargarten walks into a bar in southeastern Wisconsin, or rather any bar that serves Sprecher beer, he’s likely to see something familiar: a tapper handle that was conceived, designed and crafted in his own Cedarburg back yard, with his own hands.

The artist, who founded Replica Masters full-service mold-making, casting, design and sculpting facility in 1990, has been creating beer tappers for Sprecher for about a decade. It was a job that all but fell into his lap at a friend’s bonfire several years ago, where he found himself talking with a stranger who turned out to be Jeff Hamilton, then-vice president (now president) of Sprecher Brewing Co.

“He was just a guy next to me that I started chatting with,” recalled Hargarten. “We talked about what we both did, and he said, well, do you ever make any tapper handles? I had just made a few for a company up in Random Lake. Jeff said, well, let’s put something together. I’ve been their tapper handle guy ever since.”

Hargarten has created various designs of handles for different Sprecher brews, many featuring the company’s famous griffin logo, others customized for a specialty product.

The real time and effort goes into coming up with the design and original sculpture, he said. Usually, this first sculpture will be made out of wood or clay, although for designs that feature fruit (for Sprecher’s fruit-flavored brews), he will often just use the real thing. A rubber mold of the design is then made, cast into polyurethane or resin, and hand-painted.

“You can get pretty snazzy and pretty eye-popping,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been going for — something bright and colorful that catches the eye.”

Hargarten has also done tapper handles for St. Francis Brewery in St. Francis and Lithia Beer in West Bend. The tappers are a perfect size to create in his shop, located 50 feet behind his back door — in contrast to the larger-scale architectural features he is sometimes asked to make.

For those, he’s worked with The Kubala Washatko Architects on a number of projects, such as recreating vintage air conditioner vents for St. Sebastian’s Church in Wauwatosa. He’s also done work for the Danbury Mint design house and the Milwaukee Public Museum.

A particularly enjoyable collaboration in his career came with Creative Confection Concepts, a candy-making company employed by many famous Hollywood producers. Replica Masters had a contract with the company to create candy containers featuring licensed designs from big-budget movies.

“It was during the time of ‘Jurassic Park’ and Jim Carrey’s ‘Pet Detective,’ and ‘Space Jam’ with Michael Jordan,” he recalled. “I was creating all kinds of crazy candy containers — ones that looked like Michael Jordan, or Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze in the ‘Batman’ movies. It was a really fun time.”

‘It’s always something different’

Hargarten has a degree in sculpture from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and began his career working at a fine arts foundry as an apprentice. He later worked as a mold-maker at a polyurethane plant before striking out on his own with Replica Masters.

“It doesn’t get boring — it’s always something different,” he said of his job. “The creative process is what I love. I’ve been trying to do my own artwork as well and playing around with a lot of fun stuff there, and just experimenting and trying new techniques.” Hargarten is also a member of the Cedarburg Artists Guild and, in his free time, enjoys snow sculpting, and will participate in several events each winter.

“It’s fun because of the monumental scale we get to work in, and the people you meet from all over the world,” he said.

So, as one who would be in a position to know, what does Hargarten consider to be the most outstanding Sprecher beer?

He demurs from the question. “That’s a tough one, but Sprecher makes many fine beers,” he said.

And tapper handles?

“As far as I’m concerned, they have the best!” he replied.

For more information about Hargarten, go to www.replicamasters.com.