Follow Miller-Melbergs life through early sketches including figures, nature and sculptural concepts maquettes, small-scale sculpture from which larger pieces evolve, and the finished product, through November 15, in the exhibit, titled Jim Miller-Melberg: An autobiography in drawings & sculpture, 1946-2008.
Nearly 100 working sketches and photos of finished outdoor sculptures are framed in collages on the walls, combined with 40 pieces of sculpture, including sculpture in the round and relief sculptures (three-dimensional wall pieces).
AN ARTISTS VISION
The concept for the sculpture display was born four years ago.
I showed [Gail DeMeyere, CTAC visual arts director] some of my work to familiarize her with what I was doing, and she thought it would make a very good educational exhibit, says Miller-Melberg. So, we decided that we would make a kind of autobiography of the exhibit, showing drawings and the development of a sculptors life, in a sense.
A Birmingham resident, Miller-Melbergs outdoor sculpture, Two Figures, is also a part of CTACs Art in Public Places, sponsored by Moran Iron Works and the Frey Foundation. The project displays seven pieces of massive outdoor art in Northern Michigan communities on a rotating basis.
For close to 20 years, Miller-Melberg designed and manufactured playground sculptures, such as basketball hoop supports, precast turtles and camels, creating a company called Form, Inc. Sold in 1981 to the Wausau Tile Company in Wisconsin, the business still makes playground sculptures, to this day.
My turtle, one of my products I designed when I was still teaching at the University of Michigan, in probably 1959, says Miller-Melberg, was donated by the company who is now making my products, and its over in the (Petoskey) library park. Its part of the exhibit, in a sense.
One hundred turtles have been shipped to China recently, and 40 more camels, originally a commission a picture of them is part of the exhibit have just been shipped to Saudi Arabia.
At age 79, Miller-Melberg has been creating art most of his life. My Finnish grandfather was a painter, he says, and somehow or other it was always encouraged, and I started drawing when I was probably old enough to hold a pencil.
He credits his father with giving him his early sculpting skills.
My father was a pattern-maker in Detroit, explains Miller-Melberg, and he had his own small shop. He had four sons and we were all trained in the pattern-making business [which] involved woodworking, working with foundry (casting metals), working with wax, working with various materials I think thats how I got my start, just working in the woodshop since I was about seven years old.
Although hes received art instruction at the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Ecole de la Grand Chaumiere in Paris and pursued independent study in England and France, Miller-Melbergs sculpting education is unconventional.
I love the idea of universities, because you meet so many different kinds of people, he says, but I think that my basic education was my own interest in the work, visiting museums, traveling in Europe in England, France, Italy and just seeing all the wonderful things that had been done through the ages. So thats an education, just looking, and observing, reading.
A SCULPTORS LIFE
Fortunate to have sustained a sculpting career, Miller-Melberg understands that making a living as an artist is challenging.
Its very, very difficult to make a living being a sculptor, but that was always my intention. I had never intended to teach, so though I taught for three-and-a-half years at the University of Michigan, it was sort of an aberration. I had always thought artists and sculptors and painters should make a living doing their work.
I started out doing mostly woodcarvings but because of my background as a pattern-maker, Ive done cast iron, cast aluminum, cast bronze modern materials, such as plastic, fiberglass materials, plaster. The only thing Ive not done is stone carving, which I had hoped to do at one time, admits Miller-Melberg.
I think Im best at carving, but I do a lot of modeling, too. Obviously, you have to model in clay and I model in wax, too, for bronze casting, but Im pretty adept at most materials.
Ideas for new pieces come to Miller-Melberg from nature and observation, and he credits his former wife a concert pianist while she was alive with inspiring him.
What gives me the greatest pleasure is kind of inventing new things, new shapes, new ideas, he says, but, still, I love looking at other peoples work, because you learn from looking.
I do a lot of drawing from nature, he says. I do small sculpture, little studies in wax; if theyre good I have them cast in bronze. Ive been working on some of those, too.
His advice for those just starting out? The whole art world is in turmoil, he says. Theres all kinds of things in the world to look at. Im concerned that maybe theres not enough emphasis on skills basic skills like carving, putting things together with your hands, working with your hands. Theres a lot of computer work done now, which is very nice and very interesting, but I think its very essential that people start doing things again with their hands.
WHY VISIT THE EXHIBIT?
I think its interesting to see the life of a sculptor, says Miller-Melberg. How one develops from a very early age one drawing dates back to when I was 16 or 17 years old and some of the relief sculpture, I was about the same age. And also, I think its interesting because Ive done such a variety of things; I attempted to bring sculpture to public life through sculptures for playgrounds and street furniture.
[People] should see it, Miller-Melberg finishes, with a laugh, because Im the only person in Michigan who shipped camels to Saudi Arabia.
Visit the Crooked Tree Arts Center in downtown Petoskey, now through November 15 to check out Jim Miller-Melbergs autobiographical sculpture exhibit. Hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information visit www.crookedtree.org or call