Barnesklubb: Sculpting with Vigeland

Gustav Vigeland is by far, my favorite artist.  I have loved by his work since I first discovered him in May of 2011 during our visit to Oslo.

I shared with you yesterday a post about Gustav Vigeland: Artist and Visionary.  Today, I invite you to join my Barnesklubb kids as we use his work as inspiration for our own.

Parental Advisory :: Vigeland’s work is predominately nudes.

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I opened the lesson by showing the video, The Vigeland Park and Museum.  The kids were then directed to the tables where I had distributed a number of photographs of Vigeland’s work. I took a few minutes to read a short biography and to share a few of the details of my favorite pieces.  I put emphasis on the emotions expressed in their faces.

Method #1 ~ Air Dry Clay

I then distributed the materials (air dry clay) and encouraged the kids to create a sculpture of their own. They were not limited to human figures but most chose to sculpt something simpler – an airplane, a bird nest with eggs, Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer), and even a little spouting whale.

I was most impressed with the youngest artist in our group – a super sweet little girl, just 3 years old. She took pieces of the clay, rolled it into little balls, squished each ball to make something of a pancake shape, and then layered these. She pointed to her finished work and told me, “Pile.”  She then pointed to the photograph I had on display of Vigeland’s A Pile of Babies.

Working with the air dry clay turned out to be more troublesome than I had anticipated.  It became a little crumbly rather quick and cracks appeared on the surface of their work.  The kids all expressed frustration with the medium.  Some chose not to finish the project.

vigelandMethod #2 ~ Plaster Gauze

I thereby gave it another go with my own children at home, using a tutorial I found at Art Rocks. This format worked a lot better and we were much more pleased with our work.  Rather than use the tuna cans, as she described however, we used pill bottle lids.  The only wire we had on hand was 24 gauge so it was very thin.  Our sculptures were very small and thereby a little tricky for the kids to wrap with the plaster gauze.

In the end, we had a lovely collection of miniature statues – Buddy says his is a basketball player and Sweetie was aiming for a runner.  She wasn’t happy with her end result until I told her it resembled Vigeland’s Sinnataggen running through the park.

I would certainly use this method again.  However, I would use tuna or cat food sized cans and larger gauge wire.

Gustav Vigeland: Artist & Visionary

Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park is unlike any other; it showcases the work of only one man—Gustav Vigeland. Vigelandsparken was mostly completed between 1939 and 1949. It’s the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist and according to the Vigeland Museum’s website, the park boasts more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron.

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The Artist

In 1921 Vigeland, already an established artist, made an agreement with the city of Oslo. In return for a home and studio at Frogner Park, Vigeland would create a park built around the bulk of his work and it would forever belong to the city. 

“I was a sculptor before I was born. There was no other path, and no matter how hard I might have tried to find one, I would have been forced back.” – Gustav Vigeland

I first discovered Gustav Vigeland when we visited the park in May of 2011.  I’ve never been as touched by any piece of art in my life. I could recognise myself, people I love, people I know, what we feel, and what we have felt, in almost every single sculpture in the park. I would look at a sculpture, walk away and look at several others, turn around, and then return to the same sculptures over and over again. The concern on a father’s face, an elderly man’s frailty, the joy in a mother’s smile, each emotion he captured held me enraptured for hours.

For 20 years, the last two decades of his life, Vigeland lived and worked here, creating more than 200 projects for the park. The work includes the impressive entrance, impressive two-dimensional iron gates, a bronze fountain with a tableau of the circle of life. The pinnacle is a five-story monolith of the bodies of men, women and children—more than 120 figures—carved from a single column of solid granite.

The Visionary

The theme of the garden is life and all its stages. Vigeland’s figures show mankind from birth to death and the sculptures are arranged in groups along a series of pathways.    The figures, especially those in granite, are massive, but there is a striking delicacy to each piece.

The bridge leading from the entrance to the crest of the hill is lined with more than 50 bronze figures, including the famous Sinnataggen a furious toddler captured in full tantrum. The figure of the angry baby has become the park’s signature and his left hand shines from the constant touching and rubbing of visitors. My kids loved this one, of course. 

Beyond the bridge is the Fountain, a massive sculpture of six men holding up a large basin who give water to life, nature and mankind, surrounded by 20 bronze groups of trees and human figures represent the never ending circle of life. The huge basin of water in the fountain is a symbol of the burden of life. It represents life’s struggles. It is thought that the man struggling under the weight of the dish was Vigeland himself. Vigeland had lost contact with his children after he separated from their mother. This is the oldest part of the park. It was built between 1906 and 1914, but was not erected in the park until after his death.

The highest point in the park, to which all the paths lead, is the Monolith, an intricate pillar with 121 figures carved from a single block of granite. The imagery is said to represent humanity’s yearning for a higher spiritual plane. Three stone carvers worked fro 13 years carving the Monolith. It is 17 metres tall and is hewn from granite. It depicts 121 figures which coil around each other with a child on the top. Around the Monolith are 36 large granite groups of figures depicting human relationships of various kinds.

The Man

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(Photo credit: National Library of Norway)

Adolf Gustav Vigeland was born on the 11th of April outside Halse og Harkmark in Mandal, Norway in 1869. He was born to Anne and  Elesæus Vigeland. His father was a master cabinetmaker. Gustav was interested in wood as a medium too, but he wanted to carve it, not make cabinets with it. He went to Oslo at 15 to apprentice at wood carving. His education was put on hold when his father died and Gustav returned home to help support he family. By 1888 he was back in Oslo studying under sculptor Brynjulf Bergslien. In 1889 he premiered his first work, Hagar and Ishmael.

In the early 1890s, he traveled to Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin and Florence. His stay in Paris, studying  at Auguste Rodin’s studio had a particular influence on the young sculptor. Themes of life, death and love — at once intimate and grand in scale — made their way into his sculpture. His works were well received in art circles and by critics, but Gustav found he couldn’t make a living sculpting naked images of death or love.

He took a job helping to restore the Nidaros Cathedral in 1897 for a few years — it was there that he began to carve dragons and lizards, animals he used later to symbolize sin and the force of nature working against man. He spent a decade carving busts of Norway’s famous writers and thinkers.  He also designed the Nobel Peace Prize which was first awarded in 1901.

Gustav secured an abandoned studio from the city of Oslo starting in 1902. He used the work space for nearly two decades before it was demolished to make way for a new library. At that point he negotiated with the city council for a new workspace; they agreed to provide him with a new studio/living space and he would donate all his future art works to the city.

When he died in 1943 his studio was converted into The Vigeland Museum. Today the museum “houses approximately 1,600 sculptures, 420 woodcuts, and 12,000 drawings, as well as other artifacts such as notebooks, photographs, books, and thousands of letters.  Sadly, we were unable to tour the museum during our visit (it was closed for renovations) but it is on the top of my list for our return.

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The true magic of Vigelandsparken is the way the sculptor imbued granite and bronze with human emotion. His figures carry the joy, anguish, fear and desire of life. They draw you in and stay with you after you leave.

If you have enjoyed his work and would like to engage your kids in a fun, hands-on art activity, be sure to see my next post, Sculpting with Vigeland, whereby I describe an art lesson I taught my Barnesklubb kids.

Art of the Brick :: Lego Sculptures

A few months ago, we had the opportunity to see Nathan Sawaya’s “Art of the Brick” exhibition when it was at our local science museum.  Like most young boys – my little man LOVES Legos so this exhibit was fascinating to him.  My daughter loved it too!

Nathan Sawaya is a New York-based artist who creates awe-inspiring works of art out of some of the most unlikely things. His recent global museum exhibitions feature large-scale sculptures using only toy building blocks. Born in Colville, Washington and raised in Veneta, Oregon (My home state, yay!) Sawaya’s childhood dreams were always about fun.  He work connects with us because he uses items we are all familiar with … his Lego sculptures captivate our imagination and everyone thinks to themselves, “I could do that!”

What I love about his work is that while his sculptures appear to simply be snapped together from LEGO bricks, there is a little more to the process.  Like many sculptors, Sawaya makes preliminary sketches of his pieces. He also uses graph paper to translate these sketches into LEGO reality.

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As a train enthusiast with an impressive collection of HO trains for his years, Buddy’s favorite piece (shown above) revealed a remote train depot, part of Sawaya’s ‘In Pieces’ series.  The ‘In Pieces’ series features isolated individuals standing in recognizable but chillingly empty minimalist scenes with geometrical design, derived from common features of the American landscape. Incorporated into the piece, the figures have elongated limbs, referencing society’s idealized bodies.  Juxtaposed against a desolate, American realist environment, the images are both appealing and ambiguous.

There were several other pieces in this series on display and we enjoyed each one. Using the style and content of the American Postcard as a reference, the photographic elements have been color graded with pastels. As the viewer begins to examine the piece closely, the series reveals its brick-by-brick fabricated construction.  This process also represents the direct processes involved with digital photography today.  Clear references to pixelation and technology are apparent through the stylized manipulation and digital enhancements.

If you are interested in seeing this exhibit yourself, check out Sawaya’s website, The Art of the Brick for more information.