Galleries : Inside A Sculptor's Studio
There are hearts everywhere. Hearts in the field, on the deck, over doorways, hearts made of bronze for drawer pulls and doorknobs. A big heart made out of resin and cloth stands like a sentry before a grove of cedars. White hearts and grey ones, made out of concrete, guard sand piles strewn with tricycles and toys. Giant red, yellow, and blue playing card hearts, abstracted in metal, invite passage from house to pond.
The Chilmark home and studio of artists Jay Lagemann and Marianne Neill are always filled with a lively collection of works in progress. They live and work in a compound of buildings at the end of a long sand driveway. Visitors are treated to the sight of pastures with grazing sheep milling around the bronze dancers who stand on pedestals catching the sun.
"I view housing as sculpture," says Mr. Lagemann, gesturing to the tall two-level house where he and his wife live. "This is my largest sculpture so far."
The couple used to live in what is now their studio. "It was a solar experiment, with the shower in the living room," he says, laughing. "I got these beams off Vincent Beach from a raft that washed up. I didn't have any money."
Two by six framing supported the beams and provided the skeleton of the studio, which was then wrapped in two layers of greenhouse polyethylene. "It looked like an [inflatable] couch," Mr. Lagemann recalls.
Now it is filled with her paintings, his sculptures, and sources of inspiration; gourds on a bench, driftwood and stones, light from windows that look out over the surrounding landscape sprinkled with sculpture and sheep.
Some of his earliest pieces made from wood in the 70s remain. The shapes are sweeping curves that Mr. Lagemann says were inspired by the wood's grain, color and shape. "Like Michelangelo," he quips, "drawing out of the stone the form that was already there."
In 1976, Mr. Lagemann took a course in metal with Travis Tuck. "We became good friends and he went to Europe, so we worked out a deal where I took over his studio, and paid the bills, but no rent. He was happy and I made a lot, 20 or 30 pieces."
Photos by Fae Kontje-Gibbs
Some shapes are the result of Mr. Lagemann's sailing experiences. In the early '70s, one of his best friends in Chilmark introduced him to the adventure of crossing the Atlantic.
Mr. Lagemann also worked on special effects in the boat department of Jaws 2, which helped in the development of his sculpture. He says, "I learned a lot stuff, fiberglass work, a lot of welding, and a wonderful attitude that special effects basically is not normal and so you don't have to get it right the first time...In a certain sense with sculpture, you have the idea, and then it is a special effect."
He gestures toward a small clay swordfish that mimics the large one he made in 1994 of Menemsha's "Swordfish Harpooner." He says, "You know you want to get this heavy thing to be floating in the air. It seems to be what I keep trying to do."
Mr. Lagemann says, "It's been sort of a wild year for me," referring to some health concerns. "It's a major thing facing prostate cancer and potential death. I might not have much time, but maybe I do. Do I care about my legacy? I've made hundreds of pieces. I think there are five that are really good, like the "Harpooner," "Swinging Jenny," and "The Dance."
The Harpooner, according to Jay, needs some repairs. "With my mortality coming up, I'm asking myself, what do we do? Do we want it there permanently? It's made of steel, just like the boats. With all the salt and weather and everything, well, rust never sleeps. It won't last forever."
Inside Mr. Lagemann's and Ms. Neill's spacious house there are high ceilings, paintings, sculptures, and bright cherry wood floors. Polished tree trunks and branches serve as coat racks and stair rails. In the kitchen there is a Koa wood table with ironwood legs that Jay made and had shipped to Chilmark from Hawaii.
In his studio off the living room, piles of wire, small clay versions of larger pieces, and cans of screws vie for floor space and crowd the benches. Tall canisters of gas for torches stand above a glorious disarray of tools and their artistic offspring.
"I'm selfish," says Jay, spreading his hands, "I don't want to take commissions. When I do, I get conservative. There's more to life than money. When I make something because I want to, then I know at least one person will like it, namely, me."
On a dresser in the bedroom there is just such a piece. Inspired by a sailing trip with fierce winds and waves that, at one point, had the vessel surfing into deep troughs. Made of wood, it depicts the graceful flight of an albatross gliding over a wave. "The sight of that bird, effortlessly following the motion of the waves, settled everyone down. You could see the relaxation. It reminded us, 'Okay, so this is how you do it. Go with it.'"
He looks around. "This house is relaxing," Mr. Lagemann offers, "because it's never done. I get to live with it, and find all sorts of things that are wrong or bother me, and I have the chance to tweak them, to get them right. Just like a work of art."
He sits back and butters a piece of his wife's homemade banana bread. "It's fun to talk about art, about being in that zone where time is stopped. It is important to get into that space."