Jeff Kalstrom has been a part of Franconia for years and is best known around here for his fantastical animal sculptures. This summer Jeff participated in our FSP/Jerome Fellowship Artist Program. Measuring 18 ft tall his newest addition to the park is like no doghouse you’ve ever seen before. In between coats of paint, we had a chance to sit down with Jeff to discuss everything from Greek philosophy to what makes Franconia special.
What is your creative process like when you’re making sculpture?
It actually varies quite a bit. I use a sketchbook periodically to make 2D sketches. There are blurry areas where 2D ideas meet 3D and vice versa. The process for this particular piece was slightly different. I’m trying to remember when I came up with the idea, but as far as I can tell, it just sprang forth in my brain pretty much fully formed. After thinking of this geometric dog head as a house, I sketched it out, but the only things that really changed from the initial conception were the proportions. The relative size of the parts changed, but it was pretty much fully formed. It’s odd – ideas don’t usually come fully formed. When they do it’s like a gift from somewhere – It’s wonderful. As it so happens I did get a particularly nice burst of energy when I found out I was accepted for the fellowship, so I conceived of another 3 or 4 new pieces,. I’m ready to move forward with related work – a large house in the shape of a bunny’s head. Its ears will be 50 ft ladders and rigged like a sailboat. The whole thing will be painted screaming yellow.
Tell me about your project at Franconia. How does it relate to your past work?
My work has revolved around animals and animal forms for a long time now. At the same time, I’ve also been very interested in housing, particularly small houses. I’m fascinated by the tiny house movement. In the past, I’ve made a couple of sculptures that served as architectural spaces, but they were in some ways more conventional since they looked like a normal small house or dwelling. The particularly delightful thing about this piece is that it combines my interests in tiny houses and animals, with the added wrinkle of philosophical speculation circling around the lifestyle and ideas of Diogenes of Sinope. (Diogenes’s philosophy was a life as “lived action” He called his philosophy “the dog” or “kynikos”-“dog-like” in Greek. The work “cynicism” comes from the Greek word “kynikos.” His philosophy was not the negation we associate with cynicism today, but a more Zen-like assault on the conventions of every custom. He believed in living a simple natural life much like that lived by dogs. Diogenes said: “Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards.”) “The Dog House” is my vision of a small house and studio for an artist who is obsessed with dogs. It is an answer to the question “how much space does an artist need to live and work?”
Why did you propose your project to Franconia? What did the experience of working here offer?
Well in many ways, Franconia is the perfect place for this sculpture to be. I don’t know anywhere else in the state that attracts such a broad cross-section of the population. Arts museums like the Walker Art Center get a more specialized audience, but this is the broadest, most open place for people to view art. You really expose yourself to a public that approaches art very directly and openly, without a lot of pretension. There is something special about being in a rural environment as opposed to an urban one; it changes how people see the work and how they view the work. The art feels like it’s part of the landscape out here. One reason to want to work here is that it’s such a supportive place for artists. When you work here you’re part of a community of artists that share ideas and support one another. Franconia is an inspiring place. The quality of the artists, their works, and the openhearted nature of the place makes it a delight to work here.
Where did you study and whom did you study with?
As an undergraduate I studied at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities and worked with Thomas Rose. I went to graduate school at University of South California where I worked with Judd Fine. I continued to work for Judd Fine for 2 years as his studio assistant after grad school.
How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies you’ve completed?
The difference between Franconia and other residencies is that this place is so specifically oriented towards sculpture. Other residencies are open-ended and focus on working in different disciplines. At those places you don’t have the facilities to make large-scale works of sculpture. I don’t know of any other place that compares. Other places are more meditative: you make something privately and quietly. This is not a pastoral retreat; it’s an intense explosion of energy.
Once Jeff answered all of our questions he posed one of his own: “Would you like to live in a house like this?” We know our answer, do you?
Come decide for yourself by visiting “The Doghouse” at Franconia 365 days a year dawn ’til dusk!