Dan Oster­miller: Bronze Gone Wild

A new exhibition at the Santa Fe Botan­i­cal Garden will present more than 20 Dan Oster­miller mon­u­ments.

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS - By John O’hern

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”

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