Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Artists shaped by shaping trades

Julie Speidel?s sculpture stands in collections around the world and outdoor public spaces nationwide.

For the Express

The sculpture garden on Ketchum's Main Street and its enthusiastic reception are testimony to what local gallery owners have been saying all along: sculpture is hot.

"It can be a wonderful focal point for the home," said Carey Molter, director of Kneeland Gallery. Robin Reiners, owner and director of Gallery DeNovo, credits the popularity of outdoor sculpture partially to the valley's short growing season. Spring and fall rob even the most manicured yards of color and focus. "And in the snow," she pointed out, "it still looks great."

Gallery DeNovo is one of eight galleries in the Sun Valley Gallery Association, the group that organized the garden in an empty lot owned by Steve and Donna Burnstead. "When we contacted him, he said 'Sure, I'd love to help you out,' and originally promised the lot from June 20 through July 20," Reiners said of the current location at the south end of Ketchum. "But when he was there, he thought it looked so great, he hopes to keep it through August."

Gallery DeNovo shipped one work from Barcelona, another from Holland. Pieces range from a colorful, life-sized bronze figure of a Native American warrior by Kneeland Gallery's Dave McGary to the free-flowing, iconic bronze columns of Judy Speidel, a Gail Severn artist.

"It's nice to see how these pieces all fit together," said Molter. It is interesting, too, to see how they fit together with their creators.

Dave McGary: Storyteller in Bronze

"I've always done artwork. When you grow up on a cattle ranch, you have time on your hands," quipped Dave McGary. Growing up in Cody, Wyo., his first artistic influence was his seventh grade art teacher, who was also the football coach.

"That's how I knew him," said the 6-foot-5-inch artist. "We had to take a semester of art, and it was like a beacon went off." At fifteen, McGary received a scholarship to study bronze casting in Florence, Italy. "I was among the lucky four who was in the right place at the right time," he said.

It's a modest story from a man who makes a living out of telling heroic stories in bronze, and his bon vivant belies the gravity of his work. Most of his sculpture represents historical, often tragic, figures in Native American history. Two of his figures are in the permanent collection of the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. A commissioned thirty-foot sculpture of Chief Touch the Clouds has been installed at the Houston Astrodome. Other monuments stand in front of Montreal's Concordia University and the State Capitol Building in Santa Fe. Not all his sculptures are larger than life. Macquettes, busts, and a series of table-top "artifacts" appear in private and public collections across the country. Kneeland Gallery's current exhibit includes three new works, including "The Gatekeeper," which represents a Strongheart warrior in full battle dress astride his horse.

McGary studied in Italy for two years, learning anatomy, absorbing Renaissance art and learning the technical complexities of bronze casting from seventh and eighth generation craftsman, which McGary claims gave him the confidence to "put no limitations on my work. You can't never do anything," he said, intending the double negative.

At 44, McGary has spent more than half his life among Native American tribes. Upon returning from Italy, he took a job in a bronze foundry in Santa Fe where he fell in with two brothers whose uncle was a travel historian for the Sioux. That summer, McGary traveled with them to ceremonies. "I was the only white guy," he chuckled. "They took me into their culture, and I literally got to experience it from the inside out. I've been adopted into the Lakota family. As an artist, it's such an inspiration."

"It's easy, in this genre, to be trite," said Cary Molter, director of Kneeland Gallery. "But McGary's work is very different. He's not taking it from a history book; he knows these people, and that sets his work apart."

"When they share their history, it'll be very in-depth," said McGary. "They'll pull out a war shirt." Such highly decorated clothing was one reason McGary began using color in his work, which is unusual in figurative bronze. "I met a lot of resistance to color at first," said McGary "But when I went to these ceremonies, they were so colorful. Their shirts were painted, their faces were painted."

Julie Speidel: Timeless icons

Mankind has been shaping earth elements with flame for thousands of years. Julie Speidel's pursuit of expression in iconic forms of metal and stone seeks to span the millennia, even as they anchor viewers in the simple beauty of now.

"She uses a vessel motif a lot," said Jamie Truppi, associate director of Gail Several Gallery, which has represented Spiedel for more than twenty years, since the artist's days as a jewelry-maker. "They contain elements that date back for thousands of years in so many cultures. 'Ninkurra,' with bronze arms gathering soft forms in a vertical embrace, could represent a mother's womb, people within a city wall."

Such bonds—between people, between elements—fascinate Spiedel, many of whose sculptures are composed of soldered sheet bronze. "There was empowerment, spirituality, in putting metal together with a solder—I can't believe that you can take two pieces and put them together, and have the resulting piece stronger than either piece alone," she said.

Flipping through the galleys of a new book of her work from the Museum of Northwest Art and the University of Washington Press, she revealed that she didn't start her career until the age of 40. "I've raised four amazing children," she went on, in a voice that conveys wonder at the fact.

Speidel is in Sun Valley briefly, before she heads to England and Italy. She travels prolifically, but calls the Pacific Northwest home. Speidel's mother was born and raised in Seattle, but after divorcing Speidel's father, she swept the children to Europe and raised them there. "She was a very gutsy lady," said Speidel.

From Mallorca to Barcelona to the British Isles, Speidel discovered standing stones and Roman sarcophagi. Speidel says in her book that she found "allow(ing) the power of these sites to flow into me feeds me in a special way."

When she travels, she sketches. She recalled as a child seeing the ribs of a whale washed up on a beach, and she's designing a commission whose thirty-foot bronze ship ribs grew, in some part, from that image.

"I love simple shapes," but they are not static. Even the simple shapes possess a great sense of movement. Each sculpture evokes a sense of what may have come just before it, and what may evolve from it. "One thing leads to another," she said, and it sounds like a mantra.

Spiedel attended the University of Grenoble in France and the University of Washington, but has had no formal training in sculpture. Instead, she learned from industry, and speaks of her ongoing tutelage from professionals in fields from structural engineering to the technology of computerized weather readers.

As a youth, she was not urged into art as a respectable profession, and she partially credits her children for her artistic bent. "As an artist, I think you give them permission..." The words are lost in the afternoon hubbub of the coffee shop, but the sense remains that you give them permission to be themselves, and to be amazing.

Speidel has given her sculptures permission to be amazing. They seem to stride through time effortlessly. This is likely due to a lot of hard work, and those bonds she has formed.

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