EXCHANGE: Sculptor lives, works in DeKalb studio

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DEKALB, Ill. (AP) — Now in his 80s, DeKalb sculptor Bruce White seems to be as busy as ever, with recent large-scale public commission projects in Peoria; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Fortunately for White, the retired Northern Illinois University professor has skilled former students like Andy Arvanetes around to help him complete his metal sculptures, which are often more than 30 feet high and weigh thousands of pounds.

White retired from NIU in 1996 after 30 successful years teaching sculpture. He was awarded a Presidential Research Professorship in 1993.

"As much as I loved teaching, I still wanted time to do my own work," White said. "So when I got to that point where I was eligible for retirement, I thought, 'This is the time for me to get all these pieces out of my head that I want to build.' "

With these three latest installations, White's work will now be found on public display in at least 15 states and Sweden.

Some of his most-prominent pieces are a 52-by-21-foot arching sculpture located in the Illinois Department of Revenue Building in Springfield, a 48-foot Fire Memorial monument on the Jacksonville (Florida) Riverwalk, and a 32-foot sculpture called PYXIS in front of the Chicago's 4th District Fire Station at 4900 W. Chicago Ave., which is featured in the Chicago Public Art Guide.

His modern aluminum and steel structures also dot college campuses across the country, including Florida State University, Iowa State University, the University of Illinois, and at Northern Illinois University outside the Engineering Building and at the Alumni Center.

White, who is of Swedish descent, once had the honor of presenting one of his works to the king and queen of Sweden. Writer Stephen King also bought one of White's sculptures for a home King owns in Florida.

White constructs all of his sculptures in his studio and residence on East Locust Street in DeKalb.

He bought the former truck shop from DeKalb Agriculture 30 years ago when he moved to the area.

With its high steel ceiling, heavy beams and thick brick walls, it is ideally suited for the kind of work he does, such as welding very large objects.

"You'd have to set off some supplies to get this (building) to burn; it's all brick and steel," White said.

The spacious upstairs loft once housed eight art students and served as a 24-hour workshop near campus when White was teaching.

After their three children were grown and out of the house, White and his wife moved into the building from their Sycamore home.

White grew up in the New York/New Jersey area and became obsessed with art at an early age. His interest in sculpture was inspired by his mother's sewing.

"I used to watch her, and I was always fascinated with how she'd take a flat piece of fabric and turn it into something like blousy sleeves that would fit on a three-dimensional person," White said. "I think that had a lot to do with me thinking dimensionally."

He eventually went on to earn his doctoral degree at Columbia University in New York and began teaching art at schools along the East Coast.

His adviser at Columbia, Jack Arends, took the chairmanship of the Art Department at NIU and suggested that White come out to DeKalb and get a studio.

At the time, White had a studio in Brooklyn Heights, but it was too small and people were always trying to break into it, even driving cars into its steel doors.

What White encountered when he arrived at NIU was a steady stream of eager students.

"The students here, as long as they had the opportunity and someone who would give them a hand, were much better than any of students I had at any other colleges," White said.

"They seemed to really have a high work ethic, and I didn't get that in the East Coast - I got a lot of wealthy kids who wanted to know where they could have someone make a piece of sculpture for them."

White often paid students to help him with his projects, and they were constantly in the presence of what was going on. Many of his former students are now successful sculptors themselves.

"It worked out well, except it was a bad thing for me to do because they're all my competition," White said with a laugh. "If I'd have known they were going to be so good, I'd have found a way to not have told them or tried to work with them."


White's goal with his art is to tap into his subconscious to create works that are completely new and original.

"A couple of people have come in and wanted me to do bronze figures," White said. "(But) I don't do the figure because it's been done for a thousand years and I get kind of tired. I did that in high school.

"I want to put something out that people will think about, not just something you glance at like a Coke sign," White said. "Something that goes beyond what they are expecting. And not to be difficult, but rather to give them something new to look at - something that never existed before."

He is fascinated by people's reactions to his art. Some have even gotten angry about his work because they want it to fit into recognizable forms.

White hopes his creations are interesting enough that people can look at them and enjoy them over time, like a good book. He sometimes thinks about what is going to happen to his public sculptures after many years.

"Usually, I wonder how many people are going to write their name on it, or when the city is going to get tired of it and take it down," White said.

He only knows of one piece he's installed that's ever been removed, though.

How long does he think he'll be able to keep making sculptures?

"Till I drop over," White said. "I can't stop doing it."


Source: The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle,


Information from: The Daily Chronicle,

This is an Illinois Exchange story shared by The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle.

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STEPHEN HABERKORN(DeKalb) Daily Chronicle


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