November 27 - RPCV Martin Puryear sculpture featured at Milwaukee Art Museum

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Reference: RPCVs in the News: November 27 - RPCV Martin Puryear sculpture featured at Milwaukee Art Museum

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, November 27, 2001 - 10:04 am: Edit Post

Read the story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on RPCV Martin Puryear's sculpture which is currently featured at the Milwaukee Art Museum at:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee Art Museum

Martin Puryear's work at the Getty Museum



Monday, November 26, 2001

The Milwaukee Art Museum's renovated and expanded galleries give the museum's permanent collection its best showcase in decades. Each Monday we feature one of the collection's works.

"Maroon" (1987-'88)

Artist: Martin Puryear (born 1941)

Medium: Steel, wire mesh, wood, tar

Location: Modern, contemporary galleries

As with so many of Puryear's big-scale sculptures, "Maroon" implies a practical purpose without literally telling us what it is. Rather, it evokes a sense of formal monumentality and superior craftsmanship on the order of the objects Puryear saw and studied in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Critics have discerned in Puryear's output the sort of grace and balance that inform the works of Jean Arp and Constantin Brancusi. He is a modernist who instinctively harks back to the precise layering and accurate fit that characterize wooden objects created by African civilizations of the past.

The human touch is evident in the gently curved surfaces, fashioned out of wire mesh, tar and wooden planking. Unlike much modern sculpture, which has a machine-finished air, "Maroon" projects a sensation of warmth, welcome and community. Measuring 76 by 120 by 78 inches, it dominates its space.

-- James Auer

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, November 27, 2001 - 11:31 am: Edit Post

Read more about Martin Puryear and his work on the Allbright-Know Museum web site at:

Martin Puryear

Martin Puryear American, born 1941

Untitled, 1997 Copper, 65 x 54 1/2 x 481 1/2" Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 1997

Martin Puryear was born in 1941 in Washington, D.C. He started college as a biology major at Catholic University of America, but by the time he graduated, he decided to concentrate in art instead. He has remarked that he had always "drawn and painted, even before I went to school, and I was always interested in building things, not sculpture so much but functional things—guitars, furniture, canoes and so on." From 1964 to 1966, he worked as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching art and language in West Africa. Here, he became familiar with local amulets, tribal jewelry, and other items that combined craftsmanship with function. He especially noted that these objects obtained a lustrous patina after being handled for many years. After leaving West Africa, he spent two years at the Swedish Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm, where he studied printmaking and sculpture; he focused as well on self-study in Scandinavian wood-working and furniture design. At this time, the Minimalist artists were making themselves known in art circles in America. Minimalism emphasized simplified, large-scale forms with industrial finishes, abolishing all reference beyond themselves. Puryear notes that "Minimalism legitimized in my mind something I have always focused on—the power of the simple, single thing as opposed to a full-blown complex array of things." Puryear also attended Yale University from 1969 to 1971, which brought him closer to the New York art world. In 1977, he spent the summer at Artpark in Lewiston, New York, where he completed his first major outdoor sculpture, Box and Pole. In 1983, he traveled to Japan. He now lives and works in Chicago. Puryear’s travels coalesced with his interest in natural and handmade forms. The results are works that are seamlessly crafted, simple wood or natural material objects. Large in scale, ambiguous, and enigmatic, they are reminiscent of amulets, jewelry, symbolic dwelling places, or furniture. The Gallery’s work is made of polished copper, an unusual material for Puryear. It is a large head- or thumb-shaped form punctuated by small, irregularly placed holes. Unlike much of his previous work, it is untitled. There is a large amount of burnishing and markmaking on the surface of the copper, perhaps signaling a new direction for Puryear; indeed the artist’s hand is extremely visible.


Make a collection of small things, less than one inch in any dimension. The list of possibilities is endless—grains of rice, rings, earrings, beads, etc. Simple things are okay! Collect them in your classroom. When there are enough for the whole class, have each student choose one object and do some drawings on 8 x 10" paper, looking at the objects from three different directions. Make sure the drawings cover the whole page. Some of the drawings might be very simple.

Look at the drawings above and choose one. Make a simplified drawing of only the basic shape of the object. Remove all details but the shape—no color, no texture, etc. Give the students a sculpture material—they could use cardboard, scissors, and glue if there is no clay or play dough. Talk about volume and three-dimensionality and try to have the students build a three-dimensional form of their simplified object, 12 inches high. They could paint it after they have finished building. Display the sketches, objects, and sculptures together.

Choose a reproduction of a painting that is fairly complex. Try removing the figures or objects in the painting in the class’s imagination, one at a time. Talk about how these removals change the meaning of the artwork.

Collect stones, rough and smooth, large and small. Paint them all one color, or maybe two colors, with acrylic paint (it stays on better than tempera). Have each student arrange all the stones in a way that they think is meaningful. Have each student write a story about why the stones are arranged that way and what meaning the work holds for him/her. Display the arranged work and the essays together. This could also be a class exercise, where you arrange the stones one way and ask the students to create a story about the arrangement.

Draw a piece of popcorn blow up to the size of a full sheet of paper.

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, November 27, 2001 - 11:33 am: Edit Post

Read more about Martin Puryear and his work at the Joslyn Museum web site at:

Martin Puryear

MARTIN PURYEAR American, born 1941

Self, 1978 polychromed red cedar and mahogany Museum purchase in memory of Elinor Ashton 1980.63

Like many artists of his generation who witnessed the destructiveness of modern warfare and the deterioration of life in American cities, Martin Puryear turned for inspiration to the craft-oriented life of prehistoric societies, whose relationship with nature was fundamental and ritualistic. While retaining the legacy of Minimalism in his use of simple, reductive forms, Puryear rejected the machine aesthetic associated with the work of Donald Judd. Inspired by a lengthy residence in West Africa, his sculptures are hand-constructed from organic materials, usually wood. Puryear treats substances as if they had a life of their own; their essence is preserved, not obliterated, in order to maintain a harmony between the material and the action of its creation.

Self is an outstanding example of Puryear's concern for the underlying forces that govern the formal geometries of abstract sculpture. Although built of thin wood layers over a hollow core, the piece looks solid and heavy like an immense stone jutting out of the earth. The artist has described the piece in terms of its reference to natural form and to the mystery of existence: "It looks as though it might have been created by erosion, like a rock worn by sand and weather. It's meant to be a visual notion of the self, rather than any particular self the self as a secret entity, as a secret, hidden place."

Text and image are the property of Joslyn Art Museum and may not be reproduced without written permission from Joslyn Art Museum.

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