Dan Ostermiller: Bronze Gone Wild
A new exhibition at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden will present more than 20 Dan Ostermiller monuments.
First among the long-term goals and objectives of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden is “Public Garden as a Living Museum – Engage diverse audiences through innovative and thoughtful curation of botanical, scientific, historical and artistic exhibits, displays and performances.” The garden is located on the city’s Museum Hill across from several of its most important museums. It will continue its series of sculpture installations this summer with Gardens Gone Wild! featuring more than 20 monumental animal bronzes by Dan Ostermiller. Many of them will make a journey across town from the gardens of Nedra Matteucci Galleries, which represents his work in Santa Fe. The exhibition opens May 26 with a walk-through with the artist, and continues through May 11, 2019. The botanical garden notes, “From majestic elephants to playful rabbits, this exhibition promises to delight and surprise visitors of all ages.”
Ostermiller’s knowledge of animal anatomy comes from working with his father, who was a renowned taxidermist. He opted to take a path allowing more self-expression, however, and sculpts the monarchs of the mountains and flopeared rabbits that are easy to identify with. He says, “The animal subjects in my sculpture have always been my voice for the masses.” He is a good storyteller, but doesn’t want to tell the whole story.
“I want people to have a feel-good experience,” he says. “I also want them to walk away with their own inspiration from it.
“Through my work I can speak freely about anything that I want,” he continues, “and hopefully it translates to the viewer in the way I intended.”
His majestic sculpture The Emperor, a bighorn ram, stands proudly on a crag, 8 feet tall while Melba, a hen, pecks for food on the ground below—but she is nearly 6 feet tall.
The sculptor’s modeling marks on the original clay are clearly visible in the bronze. There is already an immediacy to the experience of Ostermiller’s sculptures despite their often monumental size—as if the viewer is experiencing the presence of the living animal. The marks add the presence of the artist. In the case of Melba, “She is one of my hens here at the studio,” Ostermiller explains. “A little while ago she broke a toe and could not roost. We nursed her back to health, and other then a toe that is turned the wrong way, she is doing great.”
Ostermiller puts his own personality into his animals. Sometimes he’ll notice a characteristic in his dog that he’ll later express in a sculpture
of a bear, or will see something about a domestic cat that he’ll incorporate into the sculpture of a big cat.
Indigo’s Dream, for instance, a 7-foot long dozing bear, was inspired by a position the artist’s dog Indigo takes, lying on the studio floor.
“If I have a trademark,” he says, “it’s the character I put in pieces. I incorporate, I hope, strong design. I give people something they can relate to and a good piece of sculpture.”
Rather than sketching with pencil and paper he sketches in clay. The small maquettes, in which he works out his compositions, may or may not result in full-scale sculptures.
The National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which has a cast of The Emperor in its sculpture garden, cites Ostermiller’s “deft manipulation of line, form and mass, and his tendency to approach his subjects with compassion and insight.”
He observes animals in nature, in their own habitats and, often, in unguarded moments. As he says, he puts his own character into his sculptures, but in doing that the final work reminds the viewer of the common phenomenon of “being” that both the animals and we share.
Sage at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden.
Indigo’s Dream, bronze, ed. of 12, 30 x 71 x 86¾”
Boys Will Be Boys, bronze, ed. of 9, 50 x 80 x 73"
Bullfrog, bronze, ed. of 9, 12½ x 30 x 26½"
Melba, bronze, ed. of 9, 68 x 72 x 41”