When Janel Jacobson received the phone call that she was one of three $100,000 recipients of the Bush Foundation’s Enduring Vision Artist Awards, the Minnesota artist was in the midst of baking more than 3,000 cookies for the 16th annual Pottery Studio Tour & Sale in the St. Croix Valley. It was Mother’s Day weekend, and Jacobson and her potter husband had their hands filled with dough.
“I was stunned. I had to literally catch my breath for a while,” the sculptor/woodcarver says from her home in rural Harris, Minn.
The only bad news: She had to keep it a secret from all those potters descending on the area until the 2008 Bush Artist Fellows event, tonight at Open Book in Minneapolis. Founded in 1953 by 3M executive Archibald Granville Bush and his wife Edyth, the Bush Foundation has donated approximately $40 million in artist and community-organization grants.
Jacobson had applied for the separate Bush Fellow Award (a $50,000
grant) seven times, and she was a finalist but not a fellow three of
those times. This is the first time she applied for the EVA. Along with
artists Walter Piehl of Minot, North Dakota, and Frank Big Bear of Minneapolis, Jacobson is the recipient of the biggest art grant in the country.
The EVA is granted to artists who have at least 25 years of experience
working in either Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota. This year’s
EVA focused on visual artists; next year’s recipients will be from the
performing and literary arts.
A common theme
Frank Big Bear was born in 1953 and spent his early years on the White Earth Reservation. His pencil drawings are intricate and surreal, made up of layers upon layers of colorful imagery both metaphorical and profound. They’re giant patchworks of moments and memories, much like Frank Big Bear himself. Frank Big Bear is largely considered an outsider artist, although he spent some time studying under landscape artist George Morrison at the University of Minnesota.
Walter Piehl is a University of North Dakota professor who has spent nearly five decades drawing horses: The large-scale images are abstract and dreamy; eerie and kaleidoscopic; rich and haunting. Piehl excels at translating movement the naked eye obscures.
As a carver and sculptor, Jacobson is inspired by the things she discovers in her own backyard. She creates elaborate carvings of things like moths, centipedes and dragonflies that seem to randomly appear before her.
“In my current work, since 1995, I have only done one human,” Jacobson says. “A few have been mammals. But the rest have all been insects.” Though Jacobson started as a potter, she stopped making pottery in 1995 and began her second phase as an artist focusing on carving porcelain and wood.
Like Frank Big Bear and Piehl, Jacobson is inspired by Americana. All
three artists have roots firmly in Western themes of earth, tradition
and evolution. And all three artists find inspiration in wildlife.
Looking for growth
Jacobson will take her $100,000 grant over a five-year period. “I want to do it over five years so I can sustain the growth,” Jacobson says. “I want to use it to learn and grow.”
Jacobson says that she wants to use the funds to continue to improve and evolve as an artist and learn new practical skills, like how to mix metals that would allow her to create patterns in wood that would tell stories in new ways. And she hopes to learn and understand more about precious-metals fabrication.
And as for spiritual and inspirational growth, Jacobson is hoping to go to Japan for the first time, where artists who’ve inspired Jacobson have been creating carvings for decades. She wants to visit the Iwami region, where for centuries an isolated group of artists has been using indigenous materials instead of imported ivory to create sculptures. Like Jacobson, they created artworks inspired by where they live.
Jacobson also wants to visit Masami Sakai, a fifth-generation Japanese netsuke (miniature) carver. Jacobson has met Sakai a few times at Netsuke Carvers’ Association Events, and each time she’s invited Jacobson to Japan. The last time they met, Sakai made a demand.
“The last time I saw her she gave me a little towel, a hand towel,” Jacobson says. “It has a man on front with a suitcase open and he’s running, like he’s running to a train. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but the interpreter told me that it wasn’t just an invitation. This time she expects me to come.”
The new 2008 Bush Artist Fellows, who will each receive $50, 000 in grants, are listed below:
Mauricio Arango (Minneapolis), visual arts
Norik Astvatsaturov (Wahpeton, N.D.), traditional and functional craft arts
Matthew Bakkom (Minneapolis), visual arts
Elizabeth Day (Minneapolis), media arts
Jim Denomie (Franconia, Minn.), visual arts
Nathaniel Freeman (Minneapolis), media arts
Monica Haller (Minneapolis), visual arts
Mike Hazard (St. Paul), media arts
Jay Heikes (Minneapolis), visual arts
Foung Heu (St. Paul), media arts
Rollin Marquette (Minneapolis), visual arts
Craig Schlattman (White Bear Lake, Minn.), media arts
Tom Schroeder (Minneapolis), media arts
William Slichter (Minneapolis), media arts
Alec Soth (St. Paul), visual arts