Spotlight on Neal Cuthbert: 2017 Open Studio Fellow

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Neal Cuthbert

At the end of the trail through the forested exhibition area of Franconia Sculpture Park, you will find a new sculpture resembling a chicken coop with a few surprises caged inside. 2017 Open Studio Fellow Neal Cuthbert joined us at the park last fall to create Barn Find, a new sculpture combining four generations of Neal’s family, including materials referencing his father and grandfather. Neal and his two daughters worked together to build the chicken coop structure and assemble the objects inside, including a full scale papier maché dune buggy.

Neal was born in Detroit, Michigan, but has been deeply embedded in the arts community in Minnesota for decades. He served the McKnight Foundation for over 25 years, beginning in 1991 as the Foundation’s first arts program officer and rising to the position of Vice President of Program in 2005 before retiring from McKnight in 2007. He played a key role in developing the interdisciplinary arts platform, mnartists.org, which was founded in 2001 in collaboration with Steve Dietz and Robin Dowden. Neal lives in Minneapolis and is currently one of two Interim Co-Executive Directors for the Cedar Cultural Center.

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Barn Find, Neal Cuthbert, 2107. Cardboard, wheat paste, reclaimed corral and backyard fencing, found plywood and other wood, chicken coop and other fencing, birdcage, plaster chicken, bicycle seat and handlebars, license plates, architectural drawings. 8’2″ x 12’4″ x 11’8″

Describe your creative process and influences:

I believe art is about heightening the act of perception, of observation and reflection, and discerning meaning from that experience.

My creative process begins in a couple different places. Typically there will be an idea – be it visual, emotional, spiritual, or intellectual – that I want to capture, understand, or explore. I also love working with different materials and seeing how they can add dimension and depth to the work.

My influences? The world. My family. The world of things people feel compelled to make. Their creativity, their ideas, the history of art.

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Neal’s daughter Audrey working on Barn Find‘s coop structure

Tell us about your project at Franconia Sculpture Park:

Barn Find is best described as a sculptural collage. Its center is a papier maché dune buggy (made for a mostly 2-dimensional exhibition at Homewood Studios in Minneapolis) that was an imagined father-son project of my youth. It is layered with other family history including my grandfather (an engineer and chicken breeder), and my twin daughters who aided me in its construction. The piece includes architectural drawings from my father and grandfather’s practice, objects that are basically bits of art history humor, and material collected from a variety of friends and neighborhood dumpsters. As a collection it involves memory, cast off desires and ambitions, family connection and tradition, and like those, the sculpture will decay, weather, and change with time in ways that are unexpected and beautiful. Like memory and aging.

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How does your time at Franconia compare to other residencies or projects you’ve completed?

I’ve never worked on anything of this scale, nor anything this visually layered. It’s unlike, though very much like, anything I’ve ever done. It was an incredible opportunity to stretch and grow as an artist.

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What have you learned through creating work at Franconia? What was the biggest challenge?

I’ve had ideas for sculptural work for many years but I’d never had the opportunity to realize them. What I learned through creating this sculpture is that while the idea is one thing, and a very very important thing, the realization and fabrication of the idea, so it can stand up to the rigors of the outdoors and the visiting public is another.

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Neal and his daughters Audrey and Kate, who assisted with the creation of Barn Find

The Open Studio Fellowship Program is made possible by generous lead support from the Windgate Charitable Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from many generous individuals like you. Thank you! The Open Studio Fellowship Program supports the creation of new works by emerging and mid-career visual artists from across North America and beyond.

Subscribe to Franconia’s blog and never miss out on a FSP Spotlight interview. Take a look back at 2017 Spotlight installments: Leticia Bajuyo, Dream the Combine, Bridget Beck and Joy FeuerCarissa SamaniegoNick RiversSamantha HolmesJordan Rosenow and April MartinNooshin Hakim Javadi and Pedram BaldariBill KlailaLaura Feldberga and Ojars Feldbergs! Stay tuned for the launch of our 2018 FSP Spotlight Series this spring!

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