My first foray into western decorative art was with a piece called Missouri River Symphony, designed and constructed by Blair, Nebraska artist, Milt Heinrich while he was teaching at Dana College. Milt was on the brink of a successful career with installations like this, and I was his apprentice.
In the piece, the majestic metal curve of the gleaming Missouri sweeps up through carved panels that represent the fertile, productive agricultural lands of Nebraska and Iowa.
As the aluminum and ceramic assemblage came together, I learned about color, design, and composition. But I learned more about construction and commerce. I learned about pleasing clients and the unpredictable nature of big-scale projects.
From Milt, I learned to go with the flow.
Missouri River Symphony is still on display at Omaha’s Eppley Airport, and I have great memories of setting up the space for installation. Somewhere in there, maybe in the lower left hand corner, my name is etched in clay under the artist.
Though I placed a few paintings with the Melville C. Brown gallery in Laramie, my first pieces of western-style construction art were shown at The Folk Studio, a growing business at the time under the leadership of Linda Hunt. The art community in Laramie was incredibly supportive of me, a young guy from Nebraska working with Masonite, fiberglass, plexiglass, and found objects. I sold quite a few pieces during those years.
In 1989 came a call for entries in a contest called The Governor’s Award for the Arts. I worked up around a dozen designs based on the rugged terrain of the Snowy Range and the wide open space around Laramie.
I entered a proposal for a wall sculpture that would employ much of what I’d learned from Milt Heinrich. Put together on a plywood base, “Winds Through an Essence of Time” used thin sheets of copper, fiberglass resin, barn wood and black Plexiglas.
I didn’t win the competition, but I got a nice letter from the judges.
Eventually, my art moved to the computer and writing became a more satisfying creative outlet.
Maybe one day I’ll return to big construction pieces like this. When I do, it’ll be with an improved understanding of representation and design.
And an ever deepening appreciation of the West.