Visual Art 8-24-2005

State Fair Winners: Sculpture, Ceramics

This years’ State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition is remarkable for the quality of its grand-prize winners. congratulates these artists. A series of articles profiling them and their work follows.

Harder, Family
Roettger, Regeneration

Walter Harder

Grand Prize winner, sculpture

For “Family,” in bronze on an oak base

“Family” is a bronze grouping in the manner of Wilhelm Lehmbruch—a mode of bronze work that is consistently satisfying though little practiced of late. It’s difficult to locate the source of the work’s subtle intensity; much more is going on in the group than is immediately evident. The expressions of the figures are quietly charged, each individual is in possession of an emotional center. It’s a work of great charm underlaid with a kind of danger.

The sculptor, Walter Harder, of Mountain Lake, says that he’s been doing sculpture “for quite a few years.” He works in several media—clay, wood, plaster, even oil painting—but that this is one of his first pieces in bronze. He executed the original in wax and had it investment-cast at a foundry.

“The idea for the piece started with a sculpture of a woman I saw—it gave me the idea,” Harder notes. His commentary on the work is illuminating. This is not just a genre piece, a sentimental sculpture of a family group. The piece does not represent his own family, he notes—instead, it’s based on insights he’s gained from speaking with other men about their experiences with fatherhood:

“I put together the family group . . . . There’s tension in the family. The woman is looking at the man; the man is looking at the children; the girl is looking at the baby. There’s not real conflict here, but there’s tension. The woman is saying to the man, ‘You’re responsible for all this . . . . . If you want to be part of the family with me, you have to take responsibility for it.” Harder muses on conversations with married men on their families: “It’s not a feeling of hate, or so forth. There’s a feeling of, when they have their first child, they will lose that total attention from the woman. But when the baby comes, they fall in love with it . . . . “

Harder would like to do this piece at full life-size. He feels that the increased scale would more clearly impart the nuances of feeling that play out in this group.

Mary Roettger

Grand Prize winner, ceramics and glass

For “Regeneration,” in earthenware

“Regeneration” is a tour de force of complex structure. Mary Roettger, a McKnight Fellow in ceramics, has been pursuing her meditations on natural forms for many years. Her art is her work—that and teaching (she works in the art department of the University of Minnesota). She enjoys working with students, she says, “getting them to a point where they’re on their own, independent in their expression.”

Roettger started working with clay in the seventies, when she was in high school. “It was the early nineties when I started working with forms related to organic structure.” Last year, she had a work at the fair that was similar to this, but it rose from a surface. This year’s model is fully three-dimensional; its connection to the surface on which it sits is tenuous, only three points.

She describes the piece as representing “a structure left behind by some organism, a remnant, a cocoon, a tail, something left behind as a creature evolved.”

Her typical day as an artist has changed; she’s now living, for the first time since her childhood, in a semi-rural setting, with an acre of land to play with. She’s become a gardener: “The garden always inspires me, it’s inspiring to my work. Digging in the ground, preparing the soil—this is the best part. Seeing how things unfold, how they come around again with the seasons, how they survive cycle after cycle—time tests the tenacity of plants and of ideas, entities that keep coming around and around . . . . That’s how you know they matter.”

Lately, her typical day has changed even more: she’s getting her house ready for her wedding, and turning a garage into a studio. Her life continues to evolve.