Sunday, April 7, 2013

Eugene’s Carpenter

Lief's Dream, by Jim Carpenter (my photo)
Wally Larsen is a videographer and post-graduate student in the Cinema Studies/Advanced Digital Video Production/Advanced Video Editing class at the University of Oregon School of Journalism. Along with fellow students Joe Rosenthal and Chris Hernandez, Wally interviewed me as part of a video profiling local artist Jim Carpenter. Journalism instructor Rebecca Force taught the class that served as the project’s catalyst. 

Jim crafted two of the most memorable pieces of public art recently completed in Eugene, the life-sized sculpture of Eugene Skinner in front of the Eugene Public Library and Leif’s Dream, located in the Library’s lobby next to the entrance to the Children’s collection. As project manager with Robertson/Sherwood/Architects during the design and construction of the Library, I had the good fortune to work with Jim, learn about his process, and help ensure the successful installation of his two pieces. 

In addition to Jim and me, Wally interviewed retired Director of Library Services Carol Hildebrand, current director Connie Bennett, Library art consultant Douglas Beauchamp, and two of Jim’s children, Leif and Livia Carpenter. The consistent themes of Wally’s video are Jim’s unique persona and approach to his art. 
Eugene Skinner, by Jim Carpenter (my photo)

Jim purposefully cast his bronze Eugene Skinner as a deadpan character whose eyes are leveled for eternity toward Skinner’s pioneering homestead at the base of his namesake butte. The statue is an interactive piece, frequently attracting passersby to sit alongside the city’s founder, take a load off their feet, and share his basalt bench. People have snapped photographs with Eugene Skinner countless times since he first took his perch in 2002. Thanks to Jim, the Library’s entrance plaza is animated by a non-monumental monument to Eugene’s original citizen. 
Detail of Lief's Dream showing the troll lurking in the creek beneath the bridge (my photo)

Leif’s Dream is in part Jim’s illustration of the Norwegian fairytale Three Billy Goats Gruff but also his record of a dream his son Leif recalled as a youngster. The result is a beautifully charming and evocative wood and bronze sculpture. Like his Eugene Skinner statue, Leif’s Dream is people-friendly, attracting and welcoming interaction. Ten years on, the installation has acquired an attractive patina, evidence of the multitude of hands—young and old alike—that have admiringly patted and stroked its detailed forms. 

Check out Wally’s video about Jim and his two Library pieces by clicking the following link:

Like many other municipalities around the country, Eugene has institutionalized the funding and promulgation of public art throughout the city. The mission of the Public Art Program is to ensure the City of Eugene’s public art collection is of the highest quality and provide experiences which enrich and better the community’s social and physical environment. The commissioning of art works in public places, in addition to furthering the policy of fostering art and developing artists, enhances public perception of government buildings, parks, and other community spaces. 

The City of Eugene enacted its percent-for-art ordinance in 1981. Since then, the City always dedicates a percentage of capital improvement project budgets to the creation, collection, and display of public art. 

The Eugene Public Library was a direct beneficiary of the ordinance. City officials cite the consistently high quality and variety of the Library’s public art and its early integration during the building’s design. They note the high quality and diversity of the art, as well as its selection as a body of work as opposed to mere consideration as individual pieces. They also admire the number of artworks chosen to appeal to a younger audience. 

Jim Carpenter (screen capture from "Eugene's Carpenter" video)

I’m honored Wally asked me to participate in his video. I was happy to not only praise Jim Carpenter and his work but also to promote the value of public art in general. Both Eugene Skinner and Leif’s Dream really fit the Library and are, along with the other installed artwork, of a piece with the building. They’re integral to the overall design, contributing significantly to the experience of Library visitors.