Artist Studio | Jerry Wingren

A visit with sculptor Jerry Wingren at his studio in Boulder, CO

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

You were raised in a small Alaskan port town surrounded by Northwest Coast traditions. How has this influenced your work? I understand the real power of totems. My totemic series comes from the totem traditions of the Tlingit and the Haida.

How did you end up settling in Boulder? I came here in 1968 for a job at the University of Colorado teaching German and Swedish literature and languages. I bought my property here in 1972 and although I travel a lot, I always have returned here.

When did you become interested in sculpting? I always knew as a kid that I wanted to be an artist, from the time I was growing up in Alaska. In 1974, I had a Fulbright scholarship and studied literature, language, art, and aesthetics at the University of Bremen in Germany. Every day on the way to the university I walked through a park where sculptors were making work in public. It started taking me longer and longer to get to the university. Eventually, I met and apprenticed in stone sculpture with Otto Almstadt and Moritz Bohrmann.

What advice do you give to some of your apprentices who come to work with you? You don’t have to write a manifesto before you pick up a tool.

Does your perch up in the Rocky Mountains with panoramic views of nature influence your work? Of course. I watch the light change every hour of the day. There aren’t any street lights that come on up here, and you get beautiful light. But I don’t copy nature in my work; I’m about pure form.

What are your sources of inspiration? I don’t like the word inspiration. But would I have created my Resting Stone series if I had not spent three months studying Kyoto gardens or if I had not spent time on an Oregon beach that sparkled with black rocks? I don’t know. I work in series, and one series usually leads to another. I don’t know what I will make next, but it will grow out of what I’m doing right now.

Some of your pieces have apertures or holes that allow light to pass through. Are there other themes that run through your works? I want my sculptures to swim, fly, and float without being a fish or a bird. Sculpture can be so heavy.

Do you draw ideas or let the stone speak to you? I don’t draw. The stone doesn’t speak to me. I don’t want some kind of dialogue with the granite or to see a figure in it. I use intuition. I like working with Swedish black granite because of its resistance; you have to push against it. But it doesn’t talk to me. I tell it, “This is the form I want.”

What is your definition of a great artist? A great artist like Brancusi, Noguchi, David Smith, or Richard Serra creates work that makes so much new space that aspiring artists can work in that space. Brancusi made space for Noguchi to work in and Noguchi make space for Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore to work in. I thank all of them for the space they created. I hope I can create that space for someone else.

What comments give you satisfaction when people view your work? “You make work that I haven’t seen before.”

You don’t like to be photographed with your sculptures. Why? I think it’s corny and clichéd. The artist’s ego overpowers the work. I may stand next to a 13-foot stone sculpture of mine, but it’s hard to feel self-important next to that. Being an artist does take ego, because you’ve got to believe in what you are doing. But it has to come with a pinch of self-doubt. You have to doubt and question what you are doing all the time.

When you are not making art, what do you enjoy? Eating well and drinking well.

You have a show this month at Lisa Harris Gallery in Seattle, WA. Is there a theme? I will be showing my Resting Stone series on a platform. It’s as much about space as it is about the stones—the space between the stones and the space created by the placement of the stones. It’s the quietest work that I have done.

Wingren is represented by Lisa Harris Gallery, Seattle, WA, and Blink Gallery, Boulder, CO.
Featured in “My World” October 2007