A Corporate Commitment to Art

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Gary Alsum, Harmony, bronze, 11⁄4 life size, and Denny Haskew, Inner Strength, bronze, sculpture, southwest art.
Gary Alsum, Harmony, bronze, 11⁄4 life size, and Denny Haskew, Inner Strength, bronze,
11⁄4 life size.

When visitors to the American Stores Center in Salt Lake City, UT, enter the lobby, they routinely stop short in surprise. A 3,000-pound bronze skier appears to be jumping off a second-floor balcony. “First, they look up with their mouths open. Then they ride the escalator to get a perfect view from above and below,” says Julie Wade, a receptionist who has witnessed reactions to the piece daily since the building opened in June 1998.

Leap of Faith, by Colorado sculptor Dee Clements, is one of four dramatic, monumental bronze sculptures that grace the lobby and grounds of the company’s corporate headquarters. About 10 additional pieces, including ones made from sandstone and wood, dot atriums and airy hallways in the sleek, contemporary 25-story building.

Many things are unique about this particular art collection. For starters, American Stores earmarked a sizeable budget for art for its new headquarters at a time when some companies are backing off substantial commitments to art collections. “We wanted people who work here to take pride in where they work, and we wanted the sculpture to be accessible to everyone,” says Vic Lund, chairman and chief executive officer.

Kent Ullberg, Ring of Bright Water, bronze, 81 x 48., sculpture, southwest art.
Kent Ullberg, Ring of Bright Water, bronze, 81 x 48.

Javier de la Garza, an architect on the project, estimates that the bill for the new sculpture collection easily totals more than $1 million. American Stores is a major drug and grocery store retailer with 122,000 employees nationwide; about 1,800 people work in the Salt Lake City location.

The corporate collection is the brainchild of Lund and his wife Linda, an artist and collector. The Lunds travel extensively often visiting cities like Seattle, a place where public art displays are highly visible. “We believe art enhances people’s lives, and we wanted to give the experience to employees and the people of Salt Lake City,” Linda Lund says.

Originally the Lunds envisioned commissioning individual artists from around the country for the project, but after a visit to Colorado and a meeting with 10 members of the National Sculptors’ Guild, they changed their minds. The Lunds awarded al-most the entire sculpture portion of the project to guild members, beginning with the commission of four major pieces centered on two themes they thought captured the flavor of Utah: family life and sports. The works they commissioned include Clements’ Leap of Faith; Denny Haskew’s Inner Strength, portraying two young rock climbers scaling an interior wall of the building; Gary Alsum’s Harmony, showing a couple fly- fishing, and Jane DeDecker’s Through the Shelter of Love, depicting a family engaged in the children’s game of London Bridge.

(left to right) Sandy Scott, How the West Was Won, bronze, 27 x 31x 10, edition 25; Carol Gold, Raziel, bronze, 21 x 21 x 5, edition 10; and Mark Leichliter, Caballo, wood, bronze, h28., sculpture, southwest art.
(left to right) Sandy Scott, How the West Was Won, bronze, 27 x 31x 10, edition 25; Carol Gold, Raziel, bronze, 21 x 21 x 5, edition 10; and Mark Leichliter, Caballo, wood, bronze, h28.

Vic Lund says he chose guild members for the major commissions after researching other sculptors around the country.  “Art is a passion, not a profession, to them,” he says.

The 18-member sculptors’ guild is based in Loveland, CO. The organization was founded in 1992 by John and Judy Kinkade, who were  avid art collectors. The Kinkades formed the guild in conjunction with their then-newly established Columbine Gallery, which specializes in bronze sculpture. At the time the Kinkades saw a gap in the art world. There were many sculptors creating great works, but they were not getting the commissions they deserved.

Jane DeDecker, Through the Shelter of Love, bronze, 108 x 84., sculpture, southwest art.
Jane DeDecker, Through the Shelter of Love, bronze, 108 x 84.

The Kinkades saw the guild as a way to promote the works of talented sculptors who did not necessarily have a “head” or the time for the business side of their art. Today, John Kinkade serves as director of the guild and assists members in everything from writing proposals to installing their work. Guild members show their work at Columbine Gallery, attend regular guild meetings, and foster cooperation among members.

“We knew if we got John involved to coordinate the project he would put the heat on the artists to meet the deadline,” Linda Lund says with a laugh.

According to Kinkade, the American Stores project was the group’s first major joint project. “I think the Lunds were surprised to find a group of artists that could sit down, not be cutthroat against each other, and not use the ‘me, me, me’  approach,”  he says.

Soon after awarding the commission, a design team was formed and met regularly, mainly in Loveland. The team included Kinkade, the Lunds, de la Garza, Clements, Haskew, Alsum, and DeDecker. The Lunds explained to the group that they not only wanted the pieces to center on family and sports, but they wanted specific sports depicted—rock climbing, fly-fishing, and skiing.

Dee Clements, Leap of Faith, bronze, 120 x 90 x 222. sclpture, southwest art.
Dee Clements, Leap of Faith, bronze, 120 x 90 x 222.

At least one sculptor admits he was leery of the project at first. Haskew was commissioned to portray two rock climbers. “I wanted to make sure I felt passionate about the piece, but the truth was I had always thought rock climbing was stupid and crazy,” Haskew recalls.

Haskew decided to give the sport a chance. He signed up for climbing classes at a “rock gym” in Fort Collins, CO. “I decided if I was going to portray the sport, I should learn about it,” Haskew says. “I also thought the climbing classes would help me with composition.”

After several months of classes, Haskew says he came to appreciate the mental focus and the physical skill involved in the sport. “To climb you have to push everything out of your mind except for what is right in the moment,” Haskew says. “I also learned I had suction cups on my toes that I didn’t even know I had.”

Haskew also came to appreciate the poetic, dancelike quality of the sport and even used a professional dancer as one of the models for the piece.

For DeDecker, a commission to create a work about family life was a comfortable fit immediately. The sculptor is known for her bronzes depicting the strength of the family. Her own family plays a prominent role in not only her personal but also her professional life.

Denny Haskew, White Deer of Autumn, bronze, 72 x 38 x 28., sculpture, southwest art.
Denny Haskew, White Deer of Autumn, bronze, 72 x 38 x 28.

“The subject matter is second nature to me,” DeDecker ex-plains. “This was an opportunity to capture the family spirit in my own life.” DeDecker is one of 10 children, and various family members are involved in all aspects of her business, DeDecker Sculpture, Inc. They handle everything from managing her financial affairs to chasing (cleaning) the metal in her works. Her brother-in-law owns the foundry where she casts her work.

In Through the Shelter of Love, she portrays a family of six playing a game of London Bridge.  “The parents are protective and their arms enclose the children, creating a nest or shelter for them,” DeDecker explains. “At the same time they give children the freedom to play, grow, and become parents themselves.” For DeDecker the game is a metaphor for the traditions and values that parents pass down to their children, including everything from childhood games to feelings of security.

After the major pieces were underway, the Lunds decided to add additional sculptures and paintings to other areas of the building. Again, they turned to the guild and purchased a number of works from members including Sandy Scott, Tim Cherry, Carol Gold, Mark Leichliter, Herb Mignery, Rosetta, and Kent Ullberg. Many of these pieces reflect a nature or wildlife theme.

Sandy Scott’s bronze pig, titled Eat More Beef, is a favorite with the pint-size set. During the past year eager children have rubbed the nose of the porker so frequently that it is now shiny. Receptionists report that visitors constantly make generous offers to buy Eat More Beef, but the oinker is not for sale.

Indeed, employees also report developing strong attachments to various pieces near their work area. For example, Brenda Dais, an executive assistant, says she is intrigued with Haskew’s White Deer of Autumn, a 6-foot-tall   Indian woman with a mystical, enigmatic expression. “She’s peaceful, serene, and she has a story to tell. I would give up my retirement plan to take her home,” Dais says half-jokingly.

The Lunds say the project turned out even grander than they originally envisioned. The single pieces sprinkled throughout the building form a powerful whole, an artistic statement about qualities they hold dear and ones they find in company employees: inner strength, character, leadership, and cooperation. Vic Lund says one thing he learned from the project is that “art speaks to everyone, and it is not just for one percent of the population,” he says. “I am constantly in awe every time I walk into the building.”

Photos courtesy the artists and Columbine Gallery, Loveland, CO, and Santa Fe, NM.

Featured in July 1999