“Idea solving” is sculptor Nancy Lovendahl’s favorite part of creating a work of art on commission, and it’s a role she takes seriously. “For every commission I create, I first conduct a 1-3 hour interview with the client,” says Lovendahl, who works from her studio in Old Snowmass, Colorado. “Nobody knows what they want more than the client, but sometimes they don’t know exactly the questions to ask to discover what it is they’re really looking for.”
So it was for the homeowners in rural Gunnison, Colorado, who were looking for comfortable seating that would allow them to spend more time by the beautiful river that runs through their lush property. They wanted a work of art, one that would provide some shade during the hot daytime hours, and would be durable. “The homeowners provided a valuable starting point with their idea for a table inlaid with some of the Peruvian cave art panels they had collected, but I was concerned about putting these type of artifacts outdoors,” recalls Lovendahl. “And a table alone didn’t address seating and the need for shade.”
Lovendahl decided to dig a little deeper with her clients. Who would be sitting outdoors with them? Which direction did they want to face? What was the sun’s path over the space? Lovendahl walked the property; she studied the home for the types of art the homeowners collected, their color preferences, and the overall “vibe.”
The result of this research led to Lovendahl’s creation of four design concepts; she presented her favorite option last. Titled “Who has come before us?”, the concept pulled from the earthy textures and subtle colors of the home, as well as the homeowners’ interest in history and ancient cultures. Included in this concept presentation was a photo of a whale skeleton. “It was the homeowner who came up with the idea of sitting on the ‘arches’ of the vertebrae. The whole project was very collaborative.”
Once the concept was approved, a quarter-scale model of the entire piece was created and placed on the site blueprints. Lovendahl then carved a full-scale model of the largest vertebrae in foam, customized to the ergonomic needs of the client. Finally, a dummy of the entire environment, built of stone-colored boxes, was placed in the environment for scale and to confirm placement.
“When it comes to commissions, I don’t like surprises,” says Lovendahl, who carved the final pieces in Kansas limestone. The entire project took two years. “Working on a commission for two years is a huge commitment of sustained energy for all involved. The interview, concepts, and models really minimized the leap of faith it took for all of us to see this project through.”