At home with sculptor and ARTmentors founder Nancy Lovendahl
IF YOU GO …
What: Claudette Carter ARTmentors annual exhibition
Where: The Art Base, Basalt
When: May 11 through May 31; opening reception and talk on Friday May 11, 5 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: The program pairs three working artists with three high school juniors, with artists Nancy Lovendahl, Nicole Nagel-Gogolak and Summers Moore mentoring students Jaden Costello, Ashlyn Dunn and Anika Chapman; theartbase.org.
A walk around sculptor Nancy Lovendahl’s Old Snowmass home, at times, feels like a tour of a Willy Wonka rock factory.
Limestone and steel and industrial tools overflow from the garage, where Lovendahl shapes her raw materials into human-scale creations. A studio space inside the solar-powered, window-lined home is plastered in sketches and drawings of stone creatures and foam models of her massive outdoor installations. The driveway is lined with her curious creations (noticing a splash of fresh bird droppings on one, the artist deadpans: “Art critics are everywhere”).
Lovendahl has been based in the Aspen area since the late 1970s and been in this home in the Little Elk Creek subdivision — with her husband, jewelry designer Scott Keating — for 30 years. It abuts hundreds of acres of open space, down the road from the St. Benedict’s Monastery, with panoramic views spanning from Capitol Peak and Mount Daly to the Continental Divide.
She recalls the first time she saw this remote valley some 40 years ago: “It felt like such a sanctuary to me. It still feels that way.”
From this unlikely perch Lovendahl has created a body of work that’s spread to museums and galleries and public spaces around the globe, while also founding and running an innovative mentorship program aimed at Roaring Fork Valley high schoolers.
Over the past two years, she’s been deep into work on a series she’s calling “Reclamation Suite,” which places anthropomorphized limestone sculptures — they echo the forms of insects, animals, soldiers — on often precipitously balanced legs of steel.
“It’s this idea of the refined and the raw, talking about us as a culture and how we’re a little wobbly but still standing,” she explains.
Lovendahl spends years on ideas and series. The time and the machinery she needs to execute them require a lot of time. So before she commits, she has to know an idea is worth exploring over the long haul. She once spent 13 years on an “Egg Series,” working with the form of eggs in ceramics and massive limestone sculptures in the shapes of whole and broken egg shells in various configurations.
“You’re going to see this for about another 10 years,” she says of the “Reclamation Suite” pieces. “I think it’s going to get more and more complex. Whenever I start a new series it’s like a blast in another direction that’s still on the same tangent. I’ve been an artist for 35 years and I’m still working on the same idea: ‘Why am I here? And where am I?’”
Lovendahl recently has exhibited some of the “Reclamation Suite” works at the William Havu Gallery and the Kirkland Museum in Denver. She is also at work on a new public art commission for the town of Snowmass Village for a new piece of public art.
Her “The Power of Limits,” installed permanently on the campus of Western State University in Gunnison in 2016, is a monumental collection of art- and music-themed sculptures that used some 65,000 pounds of limestone.
She spent two years making it, using industrial processes that required — as her work often does — forklifts and mining saws and two flatbed trucks (when she’s sculpting on stones weighing more than 10,000 pounds, she works out of a commercial studio space in Denver).
“If you don’t get that inspiration that you can hang your hat on for a couple years, you’re not going to make it,” she says. “You’re going to run out of gas.”
She mostly shows her work outside of the Roaring Fork Valley – it is spread across the U.S., Europe, Asia and Central America — but her mentorship program keeps her closely connected to the local scene.
“Mentorship is the most satisfying thing I do,” she says.
Lovendahl launched the Claudette Carter ARTmentors program nine years ago.
The program was inspired by, and is named for, Lovendhal’s mentor: the longtime local artist and shop owner Claudette Carter, who died from cancer in 2007.
“When I was thinking about keeping her ideas and her love alive, I thought, ‘How can I be a mentor in a way that gives the best of myself to others?’” Lovendahl recalls.
She thought back to her own teens and how much she would have benefited from a working artist showing her the ropes.
The program is aimed at young people considering a career in the arts. It pairs a working artist with a high school junior over the course of a school year for one-on-one instruction and guides the teen artists through the entire cycle of the artistic process: from conception to creation to exhibition, promotion, marketing and sales.
Each year, the process culminates in a show at the Art Base in Basalt. This year’s exhibition pairs Lovendahl with Basalt High School student Jaden Costello, Nicole Nagel-Gogolak with Aspen High’s Ashley Dunn and Summers Moore with Roaring Fork High’s Anika Chapman.
It opens on Friday, May 11, with an artist talk featuring all six.