A cold December morning sitting on the west side of the wrap around porch with one hand firmly gripping a ceramic smiling pig mug hosting a bit of pungent hot coffee and the other hand tucked tightly into a cozy coat pocket. Peering past the porch railing, beyond Bridget Beck’s Playstation, behind the quiet and neatly condensed workpad, neighboring Mark di Suvero’s Gorky’s Pillow, triumphantly stands Peter Lundberg’s Skallagrim. The primitive and rudimentary artifact of life; nature; science; spirituality and passion calls me for a visit. From the porch, it seems as though I am superior in magnitude to the sculpture, but with every step nearer, I come to understand the sculpture is far superior in magnitude to me. Two erect cast concrete pillar like forms protrude from the ground and intersect overhead to create a chromosome like form. It seems as though this sculpture is ancient, much older than you or I, so immediately I am struck by its wonder. What is the meaning? How did it come to be? How did FSP influence the artist’s choices and experience while making the work? To unfold the mysteries of this piece and its maker continue on to read our FSP Spotlight interview with artist, Peter Lundberg.
Describe your creative process.
I have developed a creative process that has sort of led me along the way. I began making works in concrete, building frameworks, and then figuring out how to make these forms that would contain the concrete. That led me to a process that sank the work into the earth. And now I actually build pieces right on location. And that has its own meaning to it. The pieces are dug right from the very earth and then raised with a big crane to stand tall and kind of reach for the sky. So it’s an interesting process that I didn’t just come up with, but building pieces and wanting to build larger pieces all the time has led me to this method.
Tell me about your project here at Franconia. How does your sculpture at FSP relate to your previous work?
I came out to FSP at the beginning of the summer. This is my third trip back now this summer and we’ve just erected the sculpture. When I first came out I didn’t know 100% what I was going to do. I always go to the place where I’m going to build the sculpture and I need to see the environment first. Since my process is actually made by digging in the earth the first thing I do is go out to the site and actually dig some earth. This experience will inform what I’m able to do. It’s interesting in this particular instance because I don’t have control over what spot I’m given. There are always unique variables in each working partnership. At the same time, I have an idea of what I want to do– I have a language I am working with. I refer to the shapes that I use as a language, a visual language of sorts. I’m very interested in patterns. I was actually a mathematician before I was a sculptor. When you look at my work it looks very organic so you wouldn’t actually think about mathematics when you look at it, but to me it resonates with that mathematical language as well as music. There is this kind of beat that I look for in a piece. It has to have a certain rhythm and building it is not a conceptual process, but it feels like some sort of a ritual. So I go out and I start digging in the ground. I use a machine initially, especially for such a large piece it has to be dug out with an excavator. So we dig out the form, and once I have the shape I want, I make a steel armature for that. We lower the steel armature into the form and cast it with concrete. So we fill up this hole with concrete and it has to cure for a number of weeks to get really hard. Then comes the exciting part when we have to lift it out with a crane to get the thing standing tall and straight up. This upright piece goes down into the earth into a foundation, so it’s actually bigger than it initially appears because it goes down another 8 feet. Skallagrim is one of the largest pieces I’ve ever made and I’m very happy with the result.
Have you ever not been able to erect a piece from the ground?
No, you just need a big enough crane. I have created pieces that weigh up to 100 tons so it seems rather excessive, but in fact they do make portable cranes that lift 500 tons. They actually make portable cranes that are up to 1500 tons now, so it is possible to make these things and they are in fact portable. I don’t intend to move my sculpture here at Franconia because I really appreciate all that they are doing here. What they are doing here at Franconia Sculpture Park is so unique and so necessary it’s actually a vital part of what goes on around here. The arts are very vibrant here in Minnesota and I am happy if my sculpture stays. I know the sculpture park will grow and someday my sculpture won’t be the biggest in the park anymore, but it will always remain a part of that process.
When John Hock invited you to come here why did you accept? What did this opportunity offer you?
I’ve known John Hock a long time. We went to school together at Bennington College and I’ve always wanted to come back here to the new property and build a significant piece. John asked me if I was able to come out this year and I was very happy to do it. It’s sometimes hard to find the time for such a significant project, but I wanted to do something that was substantial. I wanted to come here first to see the new property, to see what was going on, to interact with the other artists, and then decide what I was going to do exactly. John had to show me the site and the new piece of property is a fabulous site. It’s got a nice burm on it so there are all these different vantage points. There was a lot of information to take in and a lot to work with. John ultimately selected the site where I’d be working so then it made my job a little easier. I knew what I had to do after that.
What pieces in the park inspire you?
There are many pieces in the park here that inspire me. I have a relationship with some of the early works that are here. I know some of the artists so when I first came back here I spent a lot of time just walking around. In the process of walking on all the trails you get to know all the new pieces. I am always surprised by what’s going on here. There are a lot of experimental things happening and those pieces bring a big smile to my face because I see the inventive process that is happening. There are a lot of younger artists working here which is fantastic because this place gives them a chance to come and work and the freedom to experiment. There’s such a tremendous variety of work that goes on here, there’s a lot of installation work. You see the artists mind at work. You see what they are trying to achieve when you see their sculptures here. Some of them you can even climb on or walk inside of and interact with and those little bits and pieces directly inform the meaning of the work and what the artist is thinking about. You can’t absorb everything at FSP in one visit. It’s impossible – there’s so much going on at all time. You see the artists working, and the progress of the sculpture as well as the finished work. There are very few places you can go to see that whole process. Typically, you see art in a museum with a bunch of white walls and you don’t get the opportunity to interact with the process or meet the artist and ask them questions.
What did the experience of working with the interns who are considered pre-emerging or emerging artists offer you?
Working with the interns and the younger artists is absolutely one of the best parts of this whole process because their minds are totally open. They are so excited to be working with you. You want to be a little careful about how you go about that– you always feel like you’re a little bit responsible. You make something, the younger artists see that, and they take something away from that. One of the greatest experiences for me in school was seeing an artist actually work. A visiting artist would come and do something in front of you and that was always a memorable experience for me. So I know the younger artists take something directly away from that experience, but it’s good to show them a different process than what they have been exposed to before. You hand them a shovel, they have to get dirty, it’s often extremely hard work, and it’s also a lot of fun. Then at the end of the day you get to eat with them, have a beer, hang out, and they ask a lot of questions. You learn as much from them as they do from you.
Where did you study and whom did you study with?
I studied at Bennington College for my Masters degree. Before that I studied at Skidmore College, where I received a Bachelors degree in mathematics. So I went from math to sculpture. I didn’t actually make any sculpture at Skidmore College, but Bennington was the kind of place where you could apply even for a Masters without having an undergraduate degree. At Bennington I met John Hock and Anthony Cafritz. Anthony went on to found and direct Salem Art Works. Brower Hatcher was my professor and I’ve stayed in touch with him. There were many people I met there including Lee Tribe. Many of the people from that class have gone on to do great things in the arts, both sculpture and painting. Matt Chineon is close to me back in Vermont. He is painting a new painting everyday. There are a lot of the artists who remain around that area in Vermont or upstate New York. Many of them are working at Salem Art Works now, so I have a lot to do with that place as well. It’s similar to Franconia Sculpture Park– both definitely very unique and both definitely in need of a great deal of support. This is a place where young artists can come after school and continue learning and absorb more from other artists than they would have been able to at school. So I like supporting these places and coming out here and experiencing what there is to experience.
What are some of the lessons that your mentors, professors and colleagues have taught you?
The lessons I’ve learned from my mentors and other artists and friends are a lot about life and how to go about being an artist, which is a question that is always open. People come up to you and ask why do you make art, and most artists don’t have a clear answer to that. It’s a passion we follow and it seems like the most worthwhile thing to do is to make things– to create something inspirational. I think of FSP as a cultural exchange program of sorts. When people get together from all around the world, they do amazing things. There are a lot of problems in the world and this is one way of taking care of these things. It’s not the people of these countries that are causing struggles and causing wars– those are caused by businesses and government and the need to make money for corporations. That’s not at all what artists are interested in. We aren’t doing this because we are interested in getting rich. We’re interested in doing this because it makes our lives better, inspires others, and makes a good life. When we work together, we can solve all of our problems. The other way is not a way, it’s not sustainable. That’s why I am really enjoying the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the Senator from my home state of Vermont. That man is not lying to the people. He’s not out there running a campaign that is simply going to be the same as what we’ve always had. No matter what president we have in this country it’s probably a hopeless job, but something has to change if we are to sustain what we have.
How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies you have completed? And what other residencies have you completed?
As I mentioned previously, I went to school with John Hock a long time ago at Bennington College. I stayed in Vermont and John came out here to start Franconia Sculpture Park, so I’ve been a part of Franconia from the beginning. It’s been a few years since I was out here last. Since I have been to FSP, they’ve recently expanded on to new property. I’m really proud to be building a big tall piece on the new plot of land. It’s great to see the park expanding so there is more room for it to grow. I think it’s an amazing place where artists get to come and experiment and collaborate with other artists. From that collaboration you see something develop that’s unexpected even to the artists themselves. They learn new things from the others. There’s a kind of cultural experience that happens here that’s very rare– especially today when you see so much violence in the world. To see a place where people from various cultures come together and inspire one another, where they sit down and eat food together, they create music and literature, they dance around the fire, and then they create beautiful sculptures. That’s the kind of thing that helps heal the world. So I’m really proud to be just a small part of it and to see what goes on here. It’s really inspiring. I’ve done a number of residency programs for sculpture symposium around the world. FSP is a unique place primarily because there are so many younger artists coming through. You have artists of all ages and stages of their career coming and working here. There are sculptures from famous people, but this is primarily a place where younger artists can come and really learn. That is really special because most of the other symposiums I go to expect you to sort of know exactly what you’re doing. Art isn’t always about that. Art is about the unknown and experimentation. So the artists here are able to experiment and learn things from that process. It helps you further your own work. You don’t come here with just a set idea, you will always take away something from the process of working here.
Did you start your own sculpture park?
I have actually worked towards starting a number of sculpture parks or worked together with other people starting sculpture parks. I helped Anthony Cafritz with Salem Art Works at the beginning. I have started my own sculpture parks; one was called “Connecticut Sculpture Park” – that doesn’t really exist anymore because the government in Connecticut was having some trouble. But I’ve worked in Europe as well, helping with some sculpture parks over there. I helped in Sweden, I’m actually of Swedish descent and I’ve noticed there’s a big Swedish community around Franconia so that was also very interesting for me. My piece has a Swedish title Skalligrim, which literally translates to skull and hard – it’s the name of a poet from the Icelandic culture, the old Viking language. The poets name was Egell Skallagrimson. He was a great inspiration to me because he wrote many of the early sagas which are some of the earliest literature and the Vikings didn’t actually write a lot so he was an unusual character and a great poet as well. I’ve always wanted to make a sculpture in honor of him so now I’ve done that here with this piece.
Thank you FSP for providing this opportunity to come here and build a very significant work of art. I think it was a successful piece and I’m really happy about it. I know we just raised it and it has to stand the test of time, but I’m really happy for the experience. It was especially great that all of the interns and all of the artists who were here came out and saw the process. It made me a little nervous of course, but to have that kind of camaraderie where everyone comes together and wants to be a part of each other’s process is really unique and remarkable.