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I’ve never really questioned why I make things, be it art or otherwise. I just love doing it. I pretty much have to make, whether it’s artwork, an invention, an artistic building, or some other thing that I live with. It’s not so much a conscious choice, but a necessary outlet for my creative energy and it’s a rare challenge that doesn’t get new ideas churning.
From an early age, I’ve been inspired by beautiful and innovative things. I’ve also always been adept at working with my hands. They said I was good with scissors in kindergarten. For me, beauty, whether in nature or from the hand of man, is crucial to our existence. We thrive on harmony. It’s what captivates us as we look at great works of art. So there’s my challenge; to distill and convey what inspires me in a clear and harmonious way. That’s where the 99% perspiration begins as the process of making a work of art usually consists of repeated trial, error and refinement until all the elements flow and speak clearly, no longer attracting my attention.
As I work, whether modeling in clay or wax, carving in wood or stone, engraving steel or assembling various materials, I’m repeatedly guided by feelings I get as I see and touch the work at hand. My innate intention as an artist is to convey the essence of my subject while being true to my chosen material. I’m constantly working to clarify the forms and refine the designs in order to convey the feelings I’m moved by.
Some of my work is inspired by the people, animals and things I find around me; fleeting moments, glimpsed in passing. Inspiration also comes from found objects and compositions. I get new ideas from the forms and character of naturally weathered pieces of wood and stone, the gestures of pinched and twisted pieces of clay or wax, textures, patterns, and chance arrangements of objects on the ground or beach. All can lead to new compositions. New techniques, tools or methods of work are all developed in response to the needs of the current project or the unique setting for a new commission.
Art for me is a natural extension of living. When I make something, all my creative resources come to bear. I love the challenge of solving a problem or making something that others will enjoy and live with. It puts me in touch with my deeper feelings and is a means for interpreting, distilling, and conveying, both visually and tactilely, that which cannot be seen or may otherwise be taken for granted.
As an artist, I can’t help but get excited when presented with a new commission setting. Combinations of materials, techniques and subject matter all begin to take form in my mind. This begins with a general feeling of what would go well in the space and continues to develop through interaction with my client, contemplation, design work, and the odd flash of inspiration.
One of my favorite things about making custom artwork for people is that the ideas and dreams you have for your home or business come together synergistically with my experience and sensibility as an artist. This results in something totally new; something neither of us could have imagined on our own.
Ever since that first slap and cry at St. Josephs back in 56’ it’s been rather non stop. I think the first sculpture I made was in a Fairbanks area nursery school. I remember climbing the basement stairs with my small clay baseball player, disappointed the glaze wasn’t as expected.
Seven years later, on sabbatical in Oak Ridge, Mom was introduced to potting and I met my future wife Ranja. It’s a long story but she was 6 and I was 12. I’m embarrassed to say I mostly remember playing with her older siblings, swimming, making hay houses and riding their horses and burros. I do remember her as a feisty little sun baked blonde.
During my teenage years, I got interested in pottery and woodcarving. The winter of 1975 found me spending 30 or 40 hours a weeks in Ron Senungetuk’s class learning design, metalsmithing and woodcarving. the next spring, Fairbanks potters invited Marguerite Wildenhain to teach a workshop. She commented on my trying to squeeze the whole Brooks Range onto the neck of a 6” vase. She also said if I wanted to attend her summer school, I needed to first go to South Bear School with her student Dean Schwarz and she’d take me on his recommendation. It meant missing the chance to help Ron on his walnut mobile for the Noel Wien Library, but the rest of my education was to unfold from that South Bear summer.
I was lucky to have four summers at Marguerite’s Pond Farm Pottery, learning about drawing, potting, sculpture and making variations on a theme. Mom went to South Bear in 1977 and met students from Naguib School of Sculpture. Mustafa Naguib, fled the revolution in Egypt to open a small sculpture school in the Chicago area. Over the next three years, I spent 24 intensive months making life-size clay figures and learning about portrait sculpture, anatomy, mold making and casting. In the summer of 1978, I missed Pond Farm to accompanied my grandmother on a wondrous 6 week trip to Italy and Sicily.
Back in Alaska, I built a couple of yurts on a Fairbanks hilltop. I went to Monday night drawing, carved, modeled and tinkered. In 1985, Ranja came for a visit and… I suppose I should start over and keep it to the highlights:
…small berry faces from photo and fridge,
tentative steps up on Cranberry Ridge,
Sacks in a closet of hard Logan bread,
travel by Cat bucket, backpack, and sled.
Summer, sabbatical, hay, horse, and sun,
harbinging true love, swim, ride and run.
Dad’s watching grizzly, Mom’s throwing clay,
I’m skinny and dipping with brothers in May.
Boreal rambles with hockey stick sword,
summers of building with log and with board.
Bent knives and boxes, fireweed fall,
ski race and ice skate, the north country’s call.
Pottery, redwood, sauna and sail,
Blacksmith and hammer, adze, poker and nail.
Clay figure, foundry, Brancusi and bone,
Master and model, bent steel, stone.
Sketch book in Florence, museum and pen,
Grandmother, Moses, Mt. Aetna and hen.
To yurts on a hilltop by ski, shoe and tire,
cooking and carving with soapstone and fire.
Ranja a beacon from childhood past,
True Love for life and companion to last.
On frostbitten bus ride from winter to warm,
in riverside workshop, farmhouse, and barn.
By chisel to wallet to table and spoon.
Careering as sculptor, boom-bust, again boom,
Our children are growing, farewell horse and friend,
back out on the highway to northern road’s end.
Shop, house, and heating in timber and steel,
pump, pipe, and code, reinventing no wheel.
In Homer and hammerbeam, pocket and goal,
from unraveled tangle of nettle and soul,
the phoenix has risen, the ashes now cold,
artwork is making, for sale or sold.
New memories form and old memories fade,
all mingling back into whence they were made.
Along with all the pictures of sculpture on the site, from the Tour menu, you’ll find pages with pictures of our workshop, interesting tools and of our place with its animals, gardens, buildings, innovative solar thermal system and beautiful setting. In the Other Artists in the Family menu, you’ll find information about the creative ventures of other family members.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch with questions about our work, the possibility of commissioning something special, our place, or any of the projects you find interesting.
PS. You may know me as Jeff Dean, Jeffrey H Dean, or Jeffrey Hannum Dean. Also, I went by my middle name, Hannum for many years. If you knew me as Hannum Dean before I moved back to Alaska from North Carolina and Tennessee, you’ve found me and I’d love to hear from you.
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