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Ridgewater art students build sculptures out of 'junk'

Calvyn Mooney, 20, of Granite Falls, an art student at Ridgewater College in Willmar, poses Tuesday with his exhibit "Gettin' Away," in the halls of the college's fine arts building. "Gettin' Away" is one of numerous sculptures made by students in Marjorie Nilssen's introductory studio art class this semester. Also pictured at top from left with their sculptures are Martin Hagen, Mitch Allore and Joanna Green. Tribune photos by Gary Miller

You can see her as you walk from the Ridgewater College bookstore toward the nearby art gallery -- a sculpture of a round, hugely pregnant woman sitting in a round chair in the corner, her face "beaming" with the help of a desk lamp.

The sculpture, named "Enceinte," French for pregnant, is one of the first signs that something interesting is just around the corner in the college's Fine Arts Building. Past "Enciente" is a metal sculpture of a man running, a wooden figure of a child sitting on a stool and many other human-like figures that defy any simple description.

The sculptures were made by students in instructor Marjorie Nilssen's introductory studio art class this semester. Nilssen said she has given this assignment several times and is always pleased with the creative results. The challenge she gives them is to create a life-size sculpture out of found materials, commonly called junk.

In class, she said, she talks about the elements of design, and students are urged to consider color, shape and texture in creating their works.

They also discuss craftsmanship. In the case of the large sculptures, Nilssen said, craftsmanship determines one of the most important features -- will it stand, or will it fall over?

"This is one assignment I've done several times because it really forces students to think about things in a large scale and work with limited resources," she said. "It really pushes their creativity."

The display in the hallways outside the college's art gallery and theater is always popular, and it's good for the students to have the public view their work, she said.

"I've received a lot of comments," she said. "I really think it makes people's day."

One sculpture that excelled at the standing and not falling over requirement is "Gettin' Away" by Calvyn Mooney, 20, a sophomore from Granite Falls. Mooney took rods he found in his family's fence post pile and fashioned them into a figure of a running man that rocks when it's touched.

He was actually going to use the metal fence posts until he found the thinner rods.

"I thought they would be easier to bend," he said. "I took the bar, got it hot with the blowtorch and bent it."

Mooney said he was pleased with how his sculpture turned out.

So was Martin Hagen, 20, a second-year student from Hanley Falls. His untitled sculpture is a tall figure built out of 2-by-4s that he found in his family's shop. The figure of a man, painted black, is taller than he expected, he said, and he tried to add interest by giving it a jaunty hand on a hip stance and a bent knee, as if the figure were about to take a step.

"I was just happy it stood by itself," he said.

Joanna Green, the creator of "Enciente," said she gets to see people's reactions when she's walking to class, and she thinks it's fun to watch people who think her work is either cute or crazy.

Green, a 19-year-old sophomore from Willmar, said much of the figure is made of "stuff a woman would use." The creature's pregnant belly is made from a large exercise ball, and her arms are Diet Coke cans. The whole thing is wrapped in toilet paper that is embossed with a rose design.

A used satellite dish made the head of Mitch Allore's all-metal sculpture. The 21-year-old from Mankato said he found most of the "random metal scraps" in a pile of junk in the art department. Some of the rest he found in his parents' garage.

Allore said he hadn't named his sculpture, which he thinks "looks kinda like a creature from space." The idea came to him after about a half hour of sitting in the art department's junk pile, he said.

Nilssen said the class has been a pleasure for her.

"It's truly great to have young people around you," she said. "I learn from them, they learn from me, and they learn from each other."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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