Tag: public art

Professor Rob Neilson adds artistic flair to new Fox Cities Exhibition Center

When the city of Appleton threw a grand-opening party Jan. 11 for its new $31.9 million downtown exhibition center, Lawrence University art professor Rob Neilson’s talents were one of the building’s star attractions.

Rob Neilson with "You Are Here" sculpture
Rob Neilson stands under his sculpture “You Are Here,” which hangs from the ceiling.

Three projects of Neilson’s — “You Are Here,” “We Are Here” and “Community Caryatids,” a series of 10 I-beams representing each of the local municipalities contributing financially to the center — provide an artistic connection between the 30,000-square-foot facility, the people and communities who built it and the visitors it will serve.

Neilson proved he’s not only highly creative, he also can work fast. From the time he was first selected for the art commission from among three finalists to the completion of all three projects: 10 months.

“I’ve done projects that are three, four years, but this was very quick and a lot of work,” said Neilson, the Frederick R. Layton Professor of Art at Lawrence. “I was teaching at the same time.”

Two of the projects are designed to complement each other.  “You Are Here” is a 12-foot–by-13-foot sculpture project suspended from the ceiling of the ground-level floor. It features a cutout of the state of Wisconsin with a giant red pushpin inserted where the Fox Cities would be on the map. “We Are Here” is a series of 10 oversized portraits each comprised of 1,000 individual headshots shot last summer and fall of citizens from throughout the Fox Cities.

“The sculpture project was where I started. I was thinking about what is this exhibition center, what is our community trying to do?,” Neilson explained. “They’re trying to get people to the Fox Cities, get people to come and stay. It’s about travel, destination, the history of this place and how geography and landscape has shaped this community.

“So, I was really thinking about how to do a three-dimensional representation of all those ideas; the river, history, paper, travel, destination. That all just came together in a way that I’m used to working, thinking, developing ideas.”

Rob Neilson with portrait project "We Are Here"
Rob Neilson chats with guests in front of his “We Are Here” portrait project at the grand opening of the Fox Cities Exhibition Center.

Neilson was presented with a second opportunity to propose something for a space on the lower level and the photography portrait piece “was a natural.”

“Of course, if you’re doing ‘You Are Here,’ you have to do ‘We Are Here,’” said Neilson. “I had done the sculpture about the history, the paper industry, the river, travel and destination. The other thing that the Fox Cities does so well is community. It was natural going to one project from the other.”

As a sculptor, the portrait project was a giant step outside of Neilson’s experience with a rather steep learning curve.

“My photography skills up until this point were limited to what I needed to know to take a photo of the sculptures I make,” said Neilson with a laugh. “I had to figure out how I wanted to do this, the lighting, what was the right aperture. I needed these all to be consistent so it could become one big piece.”

“The project really was me in the community, talking with people, meeting with people, people collaborating with us, telling us how happy they were. That was meaningful in a way I wasn’t prepared for and it was a great surprise.
— Rob Neilson

Despite his self-admitted photographic limitations, the bigger challenge, he discovered, was a game plan for actually taking 10,000 individual head shots in a very compressed time frame.

“How do I get images, how do I get people engaged, the logistics of it all was the thing that was keeping me up nights,” said Neilson, who found himself taking pictures seven days a week, including many days that stretched to 12-plus hours.

Saturday morning downtown Appleton farmer’s market crowds provided Neilson with plenty of potential, if not sometimes leery, subjects.

“The first time we went out on Oct. 21, people didn’t quite understand what we were doing. Given the setting, people assumed we were there to sell something. I can’t tell you how many times we had to say, before they even got to ask, ‘100% free!’ That was the line.

“Once we started rolling, once people understood what we were doing, we didn’t have to sell the idea every single time. It bloomed rapidly,” added Neilson, who said every person who had their picture taken wound up in one of the final portraits.

While he doesn’t like to name favorites among his many public art works, Neilson said the photography project is one that will stay with him forever.

Rob Neilson next to pillars project
Rob Neilson on his “Community Caryatids” project: “This sounds ridiculous, but they look exactly like I designed them.”

“The project really was me in the community, talking with people, meeting with people, people collaborating with us, telling us how happy they were,” he said. “That was meaningful in a way I wasn’t prepared for and it was a great surprise.

“It’s profound when it’s something in the place I’ve been living for 15 years. It’s the only home my kids know. This is our hometown. This is where we live. I go through those photos and I know these are my neighbors, my friends, people I work with, people I’ve met, people I interacted with. I don’t know how many opportunities we get to experience that kind of thing in our lives. But I’m fortunate to have had that opportunity and I will never forget that.”

The center’s third project was the result of a bit of happenstance. While attending a meeting about ways Miron Construction, the building’s general contractor, could recognize the communities involved with its construction, Neilson was asked if he had any ideas.

“I just stood up and said what it was on top of my head. You need columns, you need pillars, something that is holding this place up, figuratively and literally.”

Crowd at Expo Center grand opening
Rob Neilson’s “We Are Here” photography project dominates the south wall of the main floor of the expo center.

The finished product is a series of 10, 10-foot tall I-beams, each with the name of one of the communities cut into the flange of the I-beam,

“It’s supposed to be figuratively holding this place up, the 10 communities,” Neilson explained. “This sounds ridiculous, but they look exactly like I designed them.”

Appleton is home to several other public art projects by Neilson, including engraved manhole covers depicting some aspect of compassion. He also has done projects in Los Angeles, Charlotte., N.C., and for the Long Beach Transit Authority. The Expo Center projects were capstone of very happily busy year for Neilson.

“It was a big year for me. I had more shows last year than I’d ever had. More exhibitions than I’d ever had in a single year my whole professional life. I did more talks on public art, had been in more newspapers, magazines and on television than I’d ever been by far in a single year. It was some of the hardest work I’ve done and it was great.”

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Attention all smilers: Professor Rob Neilson needs you for public art project at Fox Cities Exhibition Center

For anyone who has ever dreamed of being “immortalized,” now is your chance.

Rob Neilson
Rob Neilson

Rob Neilson, Frederick R. Layton Professor of Art at Lawrence University, is looking for nearly 10,000 people who would be willing to have their face — in the form of a headshot — included in the commissioned art project “We Are Here” that will be installed in the new Fox Cities Exhibition Center.

The finished project will be a series of 10 individual portraits. Covering an area 10-feet-by-7-feet, each individual “face” will be a mosaic made up of nearly 1,000 individual photographs of people from throughout the Fox Cities.

Neilson will be taking photos of anyone interested in being included in the project on the following days and locations:

• Downtown Appleton Farm Market – Nov. 11: 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.artist rendering of We Are Here portrait project at Fox Cities Exhibition Center

• Appleton Public Library — Nov. 18: 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

• Fox Cities Performing Arts Center — Nov. 8: 5:30-7:30 p.m.; Nov. 9: 7- 8:30 p.m.

“After completing public art projects all over the country, I’m thrilled, and a just a bit overwhelmed, to be undertaking this enormous community-based art project here in my hometown,” said Neilson. “The opportunity to create a public art project in the Fox Cities that is not only for the public but also about the public has provided me the chance to engage face to face with people throughout our community and reminds us all that we are the public in public art.”

Mosaic portraitThe “We Are Here” project was commissioned by the city of Appleton and will be installed on the ground floor of the Fox Cities Exhibition Center. The grand opening celebration for the center is scheduled for Jan. 11, 2018.

For more information on the project, visit http://www.weareherefoxcities.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/WeAreHerePublicProject.

If any area group or business or event anywhere in the Fox Cities would like to schedule an opportunity to participate, contact the project at: WeAreHereFoxCities@gmail.com.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Rolf Westphal 1945-2016: A “poet” whose medium was steel

Rolf-Westphal_newsblog
Rolf Westphal (center) spent six years as Lawrence’s first Frederick R. Layton Distinguished Visiting Professor in Studio Art.

Rolf Westphal, Lawrence University’s first Frederick R. Layton Distinguished Visiting Professor in Studio Art, died Wednesday, Feb. 17 of natural causes at his home in Spring Hill, Fla. He was 70 years old.

A “poet” whose medium was steel, Westphal held the Layton Professorship from 1984-1990. One of his works, “Aerial Landscape,” a trio of brightly painted arched structures and four lower bollards, graces the outside of the Wriston Art Center. Originally installed in 1988, the piece was taken down in 2010 for repairs and restoration work and re-installed in 2014. Westphal returned to campus for its re-dedication ceremonies last spring.

During his tenure at Lawrence, Westphal converted a paper factory into a sculpture studio where he worked on his own massive creations while also giving Lawrentians the opportunity to create their own artwork.

In addition to Lawrence, he held teaching positions at Clarion State College in Pennsylvania, Vancouver College of Art and Design in British Columbia, the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Texas, Austin.

As a large-scale metalworker whose personality matched the scale of his sculptures, his quest for commissions frequently took him to Eastern Europe, in particular to countries in or on the fringes of the socialist bloc. His first major international com- mission was for the state of Slovenia in the former Yugoslavia in 1978. Other large, abstract and powerfully geometric Westphal creations adorn sites around the world, including Austria, the Central African Republic, Finland, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Turkey. Besides Appleton, his sculptures can be found throughout the United States, including Anchorage, Detroit, Houston and Pittsburgh.

Aerial-Landscape_newsblog_3
Rolf Westphal’s “Aerial Landscape,” which graces the west entrance to the Wriston Art Center, was rededicated in 2015.

He once proudly proclaimed, “I have used every kind of material, but my forte has been steel.’’

Born in Germany in 1945, Westphal grew up in International Falls, Minn. He studied at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree, and at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., where he earned a master of fine arts degree.

He is survived by his son, Ahti, 35, Bejing, China, and his first wife and life-long friend, Susan Schug of Gladewater, Texas.

A celebration of his life will be held this summer on a date still to be determined at Stop Island, Rainy Lake, International Falls, Minn.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College” and Fiske’s Guide to Colleges 2016. Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Curator, Public Art Advocate Mary Jane Jacob Delivers Lawrence University Convocation

Curator, author and educator Mary Jane Jacob discusses the changing dynamics of public art Tuesday, Feb. 8 in an address at Lawrence University.

Jacob, an independent curator and executive director of exhibitions at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, presents “The Collective Creative Process” at 11:10 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 510 E. College Ave., Appleton.  Jacob also will conduct a question-and-answer session at 2 p.m. in the Warch Campus Center cinema.

Both presentations, part of Lawrence’s 2010-2011 convocation series, are free and open to the public.

Mary Jane Jacob

A former chief curator at both the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and later with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Jacob has established herself as one of the country’s leaders in exploring art outside the museum context.

Starting with the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., Jacob has developed numerous experimental public art programs, including “Culture in Action,” a two-year project  (1991-93) during which artists worked in direct partnership with community members to explore the changing nature of public art, its relationship to social issues and an expanded role of audience from spectator to participant.  The project provided a new model for art in the urban context.

In 2000, Jacob co-organized a multi-year consortium effort — “Awake: Art, Buddhism and the Dimensions of Consciousness” — that engaged 50 museum and other arts professionals.  Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, “Awake” explored the relationships between Buddhist practices and the arts in America and the intersection of the mind in creativity, meditation and perception of art.  It led to numerous exhibitions, performances, and public programs across the U.S.

As executive director of exhibitions at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Jacob is currently involved in the program “Living Modern Chicago.” Highlighting the program is the exhibition “Learning Modern” that uses the city as a living laboratory.  It bridges the historic roots of American modernism in Chicago and its critical role in education in the mid-20th century while linking to the contemporary critical practices of artists, architects and designers.

Jacob earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Univer­sity of Florida and a master’s degree in history of art and museum studies from the University of Michigan.  She has been awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others.