Bones of Isle Royale wildlife take new form on paper
The artist Gendron Jensen loves scientists, in particular the naturalists who study "the dance of prey and predator" on Isle Royale. Years ago, in the early 1990s, he was granted a residency there to make his drawings. He gathered bones of wolves...
The artist Gendron Jensen loves scientists, in particular the naturalists who study "the dance of prey and predator" on Isle Royale.
Years ago, in the early 1990s, he was granted a residency there to make his drawings. He gathered bones of wolves and moose, and did his signature drawings of them on paper or on lithographic stones. This summer he'll return.
A show of his prints opens at Northern Prints Gallery today. The show runs into August, when the 69-year-old Jensen will be in town to do talks and meet people who are curious about his work.
He'll be meeting old friends among the wolf researchers who are convening to celebrate the longest sustained prey-predator field study in the world. Head researcher Rolf Peterson wanted Jensen there for it. He said he's thrilled to be back.
He spoke of another return a few years ago, in the winter, when he was flown out to do a drawing on the ice near the island. "The scientists, they have a gallows sense of humor. They put me down on the ice with a gallon of jet fuel and some wood for a fire. The windchill was way below zero. I was there for 5 hours alone. There was a carcass of a young moose that had been cleaned by the seven wolves of the Middle Pack, there were a couple of foxes and a whole gang of ravens -- I did a little jig when I was out there, it was so right. So primal!"
Jensen's career as an artist has followed an unusual course. It's marked by his life in the woods and his keen openness to the larger world.
His family moved from River Falls, Wis., to Grand Rapids when he was nine. He spent a year at a monastery school in Wisconsin, then went into the Navy. After his service he called his old novice master at the monastery, and asked to return and work in the monastery printing press. The monks put him up in the old beekeeping house. After his stint in the print shop, he began teaching himself to draw, on paper laid on the floor of his room.
"Some of the land there was in tillage, but there was forest, copses of trees; the wild creatures were forced into the woods; I found them," Jensen said. "I created huge drawings, five by six feet each, with graphite pencil."
After a year he left the monastery, moving into an abandoned mink ranch south of Grand Rapids, where he lived a hermetic life, still making drawings.
In 1971 he showed the big drawings in the gallery at St. Olaf College. He's moved forward into his own self-created career ever since, always striving to see further into the forms of bones, that seem to him full of significance.
He now lives in New Mexico, high on a mountain, with his wife, Christine, also an artist. But he pursues the same subject. The forms continue to speak to him.
"We are so far from the garden. But we follow our pilgrim pathways, on uneven ground, not in lordship over nature but in harmony," Jensen said.
ANN KLEFSTAD covers arts and entertainment for the Duluth News Tribune. Read her blog, Makers, at duluth.com, and at Area Voices on duluthnewstribune.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org .