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“A Penny Saved...?”
Butternut, 63.5” h (transport base included), 2011

A sculpture rendered as a note of apology to those many wimmens what have endeavored to make of me a better individual, with apologies to the most of ‘em.


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This sculpture exists because of friends with a log to donate, a Minnesota Legacy Fund career artist’s grant, my wife’s eye for interesting people, and my grandpa losing his farm in the great Depression.

My wife, Doris, whilst stopped in 2008 in a small northern Illinois town, drew my attention to an elderly woman making determined strides towards her bank.  Quickly changing to my telephoto lens, i was able to drive past her, stop and get several nice, low-distortion shots of her just before she entered.  Later, while standing outside the community’s small general store, the lady came right to me. Chatting her up a bit, I got her consent to photograph her, and noted it would be nice to someday sculpt her, with her engaging smile, checkbook in one hand and walkingstick in the other, with jacket hanging askew from the weight of a hefty pocketbook in one side pocket.

Because my grandfather cosigned notes for his father, and lost pretty much everything when the payments couldn’t be made in the ‘30’s, my mother raised me with a heavy duty streak of frugality.  That meant never wasting any materials which might be of use, even when doing so required exorbitant expenditures of time.  When friends Paul Wilson and Mary Abendroth informed me that the power company had felled a nice butternut whilst clearcutting its right-of-way across their land, and that it was mine for the taking, it naturallly had to be acquired.  Sectioning the log into 6’6” lengths for the van ride home revealed that some of the wood was less than pristine—the fibers tore instead of severing cleanly.  That, and the general lack of discoloration indicated the onset of initial stages of decay.    All the same, i was already there, so...

After a year in the woods prior to another in my garage, the logs had begun to split and either had to be sawed into timbers or utilized quickly.  A Minnesota artist’s grant, recollections of the lady and that necessity got the ball rolling.  As an ethical matter, i tracked down the intended model and offered her a handsome sum for written permission to use her as the subject, and was told where i could go.

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Bless her heart.  The lady in the pew behind us in church was more convenient and a better model anyway.  Studies of her were taken in August of 2010, and there followed a six-month dance with the logistics of executing the sculpture while controlling moisture reduction in the wood.

Wood “moves” from moisture gain and loss for as long as it exists.  At harvest, it contains both “free” and “bound” water.  The latter, secured within its cells, doesn’t begin to depart until the moisture content is down to roughly 20%.  Relative stability of most hardwoods is not achieved until moisture content varies from 8-10%.  Because the wood shrinks as it dries, and because the loss occurs most rapidly from the surfaces (with end grain generally shedding moisture 7 times faster than longitudinal surfaces),

the exterior shrinks more rapidly than the interior, and wants to crack or “check” to relieve the stress.  True stability sculptures from logs requires hollowing.  In this instance, the log was of insufficient diameter, and the need for augmentation made it relatively easy to hollow the torso before final laminations were added.  End grain is the easiest to plug, so a 2”-dia. hole was drilled down through her hat and then expanded within her cranium, and a smaller hole was drilled through her neck to connect the head and torso hollows.  From her back, her thighs were hollowed down to mid way.

That turned out to be the work’s salvation.  The final back and side laminations had to be affixed before she was quite as dry as desired, and mold would have destroyed it had not the hollowing connected to a knothole in the back of the right thigh.  This made it possible to give twice-daily blasts from a heat gun into that opening, with the heat and moisture then escaping through the yet open hole in her head.  Filling that hole was the last orders of business, as that opening provided a critical means for securing the piece while working on it.  

The stabilization appears to be working, as she has gone through a range of display environments without cracking.  It was a great weight-loss program as well.  She is now a trim 62.5 pounds for her 61.5 inches of height (plus another 20 pounds for her 2” base).

Her title, ‘A Penny Saved...?” fits with the original model’s pursuit and the times, questioning perhaps whether the veracity of the axiom is currently open to question.  It also reflects the author’s partiality towards ambiguity, though one perhaps needs to be a midwestern Scandinavian Lutheran to understand.  It leaves open the question of whether the portrayed’s name is Penny, and whether her immortal soul is jeopardized by her pecuniary interests.

To top her walking-stick, a modest caricaturization of Andrew Mellon was instead selected in keeping with the theme of pecuniary interests. 

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Updated June 15, 2016