Academy of Art University Associate Director of Sculpture Margaret Keelan

Margaret Keelan, an accomplished sculptor and teacher of sculpture since 1976, is currently Associate Director at Academy of Art University’s School of Fine Art Sculpture, a role she has excelled in since 1997. Three years earlier, she had been recommended to the Academy by her friend and mentor, Marilyn Levine, who felt Keelan would be a perfect fit due to her interest in figurative sculpture.

Renowned for her series of ceramic child-like figures that appear disintegrated by decades of weathering and peeling paint, Keelan has developed these pieces over the last nine years, all while helming the Academy’s ceramics and glaze technology curriculums.

We asked Keelan about her artwork and what she’d most like students to take away from the Academy’s Fine Art Sculpture program:

What inspired you to become an artist – and has it always been sculpture?

"Dancer with White Rabbit"

“Dancer with White Rabbit”

MK: I decided at some point that being an artist was what I was best at. It consists of making objects, a process I find completely absorbing and satisfying, as well as a whole process of creative problem solving and mapping out personal evolution which is challenging and self- affirming. It completely suites my introverted, imagination-driven temperament.

Can you share some of the philosophy behind your artwork?

MK: My work is about authenticity, particularly as it emerges when we get older. I remember repainting someone’s kitchen once, and had to first scrape off the old paint. As it came off in layers. I realized that each layer, each color, represented a time period in the life of the person using the kitchen. So in my work there is the weathering of one layer to reveal the layer underneath, down to the essence of the person. The figures are usually young girls, referencing my own life and our own beginning youthful innocence. The faces are from molds of old 19th and early 20-century dolls to remove them from a specific time and place.

How long does it take you to create one of your pieces?

"Little Dancer with Cat" (detail)

“Little Dancer with Cat” (detail)

MK: These latest pieces are meticulously crafted and can take several days to sculpt. Then they must dry and be fired multiple times. I also work in stages and may need to let the work dry and “stiffen” a little as I build. As I apply my surfaces, each layer must be fired in the kiln. A large piece may take a month.

Surfacing is a very important aspect of your work — can you describe your approach?

MK: I embrace the process of using mat surfaces and painterly techniques such as dry brushing, dark base coats, washes, and multiple firings. Shiny glazes are used sparingly to draw the eye to specific areas.

Discuss your favorite piece that you’ve done. What were you thinking when you created it?

MK: I often most like the very last piece that I have done, or one that incorporates a new idea and technique, or has been particularly challenging. My most recent favorite is Pas de Dog. I wanted to build a piece that included my own dog, and worked with the theme of the show. There were a number of technical and compositional challenges that were fun to wrestle with. I am pleased with the tension between the child and the dog, how a narrative is suggested.

"Pas de Dog"

“Pas de Dog”

What kind of people would you say collect your artwork?

MK: People, who love old dolls, Santos figures, the outdoors, animals, birds, and natural, organic materials, find my work appealing.

As a teacher, what’s the most important thing you can impart to a student?

MK: Well, when students are first starting out, I would advise to expect the unexpected, with the addendum: do not be discouraged if it doesn’t come out the way you want the first time!

You have an exhibit coming up – can you describe what pieces you’ll be featuring and the overall theme of the collection?

MK: My exhibit is called “Interface”. It shows how dance, animals, and toys are some of the ways we can connect with the world of fantasy and magic that we knew as children. All the sculptures were made with this theme in mind.

Margaret Keelan’s “Interface” exhibit will premiere at Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum, Idaho on July 1 and run through July 30th. Also be sure to check out her official site at!

Lisa Reinertson’s “Neptune’s Daughter”

"Neptune's Daughter"

“Neptune’s Daughter”

“Edge of Extinction”, an exhibit nearing its final week (June 14) at the Pence Gallery in Davis, California, features the sculpture of Lisa Reinertson, who recently visited AAU’s School of Fine Art Sculpture as a guest speaker last November. The centerpiece of “Edge” – an exquisite life-size sculpture of a young girl holding an oil-soaked pelican – made a profound impression on those entering the exhibit, and inspired us to ask the artist some questions about the piece:

Of all the pieces in your exhibit, the girl with pelican seems to embody the title – “Edge of Extinction” – most effectively. How do you feel she relates to your previous work, and how is she different?

LR: I have worked with imagery in my sculptures addressing the relationship of humans and animals over many years, but have not often referenced a specific event. In creating the sculpture “Neptune’s Daughter”, it felt necessary to me to address the specific events of oil spills and the impact on wildlife. Although, in giving the artwork the title “Neptune’s Daughter” I was opening up the concept to the timeless issues of our relationship with Nature and responsibility for stewardship.

Bronze "Neptune's Daughter"

“Neptune’s Daughter” in bronze

“Neptune’s Daughter” elegantly illustrates the plight of sea birds in a world of ever-increasing human activity. Can you elaborate on why you chose the specific model and pose you did for this piece?

LR: I wanted a young/adult/woman — a “Daughter” — who holds the mess our generation has created in her hands. She looks back over her shoulder confronting those responsible… asking what have we done — what do we plan to do? She embodies “one who is young and closer to nature; the daughter of the sea… whose world we are despoiling.

The glazing takes on special meaning here – was that part of your original inspiration for this piece?

LR: Yes. A photo of an oil drenched pelican with this brown dripping surface inspired the piece and the glaze.

Reinertson also sculpted this image in bas relief on sewer pipe

Reinertson also sculpted this image in bas relief on sewer pipe

Were there any specific challenges to sculpting or firing this sculpture?

LR: The sculpture is separated in three sections that will fit in my gas kiln. I needed to engineer the artwork in a way that it can be stabilized. The legs have threaded rods glued into the interior that extend up through the base of the skirt which it is then bolted onto. The top of the figure fits on the top of the skirt with an internal flange, similar to how a teapot lid fits onto the pot (but this is a usual process for me to use when building my standing ceramic figures.)

What part of the process in creating the girl with pelican do you want to revisit in a forthcoming piece?

LR: I actually used this imagery of “girl with oil spill drenched pelican” on two other artworks. One is a wall piece that has only the top of the figure with bird in arms. The other use of this imagery is on a large (7ft. tall) sewer pipe that I sculpted in bas relief. This was created at Mission Clay Pipes. Oh — AND I have cast the original in bronze and have given the bronze an overall blue patina with the brown on the pelican…

"Neptune's Daughter" at the Pence Gallery

“Neptune’s Daughter” at the Pence Gallery

Be sure to check out “Edge of Extinction” at the Pence Gallery in Davis before it ends on June 14, and also visit the artist’s official site!

Ramping Up for Spring Show 2013

As FASCU gets its student work ready for Spring Show next week, a handful of pieces were photographed last week in advance of the show for reference and publicity by AAU photographer Bob Toy. Here’s a handful of the photos taken, which were chosen to represent some of the many disciplines offered by AAU’s Fine Art — Sculpture program. As more finished pieces come in, we’ll be sure to showcase many of them in the days ahead…

By Richard Thoms, Life-Size Figure Modeling

By Richard Thoms, Life-Size Figure Modeling

By Emily Allen, Sculpture 1

By Emily Allen, Sculpture 1

By Josef Peters, Clay -- Advanced Techniques

By Josef Peters, Clay — Advanced Techniques

By Krittachai Srijugawan, MS Ecorche

By Krittachai Srijugawan, MS Ecorche

By Shadoe Delgado, Portrait Sculpture

By Shadoe Delgado, Portrait Sculpture

By Spencer Roland, Welded/Fabricated Sculpture

By Spencer Roland, Welded/Fabricated Sculpture

By Welat Binavi, Relief: Expression and Interpretation

By Welat Binavi, Relief: Expression and Interpretation

Get Immortalized With Yoda and Indy at New Park

Later this summer, San Anselmo residents and Star Wars/Indiana Jones fans alike will have a new place to soak in the Marin County sunshine and become one with the Force. The San Anselmo Park project, which is being built on land donated by San Anselmo resident George Lucas and will feature two life-size bronzes sculpted by Academy of Art University’s very own Sculpture Chair Lawrence Noble, will provide San Anselmo residents with a new city jewel and visitor destination.

(See also: Lucasfilm’s Yoda Fountain: A Discussion with the Artist)

Yoda and Indiana Jones bronzes by Lawrence Noble will be installed over a fountain at the new San Anselmo Park

Life-size Yoda and Indiana Jones bronzes by Lawrence Noble will be installed over a fountain at the new San Anselmo Park

The bronzes – a Yoda identical to the one installed at Lucasfilm’s Presidio and Big Rock Ranch campuses and an all-new life-size Indiana Jones – will tower over an artful stone fountain along the western edge of the park, which is located at the corner of San Anselmo Ave. and Magnolia Ave. While the land has been donated by Lucas, the fountain, benches, lampposts, drinking fountains, trees, landscaping and other features will be funded by donations collected by the San Anselmo Community Foundation – which is where fans and park enthusiasts come in!
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AAU Sculpture Students Shine at CCACA Event in Davis

The FASCU exhibit at CCACA

The FASCU exhibit at CCACA

Over the weekend of April 26-28, the city of Davis, CA played host to the 2013 California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Arts (CCACA), an annual event which showcases the best ceramic work from dozens of California colleges and beyond. This year, works by 30 graduate and undergraduate advanced students from Academy of Art University’s Fine Art — Sculpture program were exhibited, receiving a fantastic response from event attendees.

“This year was a spectacular success,” says FASCU Associate Director Margaret Keelan, who heads up the Ceramics program at Fine Art — Sculpture. “At least 500 people — artists, teachers, and collectors — came through each day, all raving about the show and the quality and professionalism of the presentation and work. This was a huge boost to our students.”

FASCU undergrad Shadoe Delgado, who exhibited one of his signature stylized figures and a trio of ceramic masks – found the CCACA event highly rewarding. “I think looking at all of the different schools and learning from other professional artists is important to our growth as students,” says Delgado. “It’s also really great when you’re talking about your instructor to another school and their response is, ‘THE Margaret Keelan?!?!’ We see her on a regular basis and almost forget how prominent she is in the ceramics world.”

The students are more than mere exhibitors at CCACA – it’s a working professional experience from start to finish. “The students set up the show, which involves cleaning and preparing the space, placing the pedestals, arranging the work and lighting it,” says Keelan. “They work in 1-2 hour shifts for the duration of the exhibition, talking to the public about themselves, their sculptures and our program. This was a profound professional experience for our young artists, who were able to apply their learned skills to a real world event.”

In addition to a healthy dose of public exposure, the students also benefitted from seeing the work of their regional peers. “Our students were able to see work produced at the same level in other programs throughout California,” explains Keelan. “It made them realize the value of what we teach in terms of skills and concepts.”

Check out the AAU student work showcased at CCACA below, and be sure to stop by the Facebook page for California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Arts to see more work exhibited at the event!

FASCU Student Sculpture Installations at San Francisco Zoo

Designer Van Nguyen stands with the steel skeletal structure of "Soul Connection" which will soon be installed at the SF Zoo

Designer Van Nguyen stands with the steel skeletal structure of “Soul Connection” which will soon be installed at the SF Zoo

Academy of Art University instructor Peter Schifrin’s Maquette to Monument class (FASCU 499) continues its strong relationship with the San Francisco Zoo this semester with several student installation projects currently underway. The following images represent the concepts submitted and approved by the SF Zoo, which we’ll update with a future entry that includes finished images once the installations are in place!

Van Nguyen – ‘Soul Connection’ – steel, stainless steel, cable-steel and mosaic

Van Nguyen – ‘Soul Connection’ – steel, stainless steel, cable-steel and mosaic

Melisande Inness-Brown – ‘Animals in Motion’ – copper forms and stainless steel

Melisande Inness-Brown – ‘Animals in Motion’ – copper forms and stainless steel

Deanna Wardly – ‘Voronoi in Nature’ – welded steel and etched copper

Deanna Wardly – ‘Voronoi in Nature’ – welded steel and etched copper

Spencer Roland and Evan Benelli – ‘The Helper’, welded forged steel on existing tree.

Spencer Roland and Evan Benelli – ‘The Helper’, welded forged steel on existing tree.

Kelly Froelich and Kelsey Evans-Lang – ‘Zooprint’ – glazed hand-made ceramic tile

Kelly Froelich and Kelsey Evans-Lang – ‘Zooprint’ – glazed hand-made ceramic tile

Lucasfilm’s Yoda Fountain: A Discussion with the Artist

Several weeks ago, Academy of Art University Director of Sculpture Lawrence Noble and Director of Online Graduate Studies Jason Shaeffer had the privilege of visiting Lucasfilm’s Presidio campus in San Francisco to discuss the many bronze statues that adorn the park-like campus. The bronzes, which were all sculpted by Director Noble in the years before his arrival at AAU, have become something of an attraction at Lucasfilm headquarters, none more so than the Yoda fountain that greets visitors at the complex’s main entrance near Letterman Drive.

As the video discussion reveals, each sculpture is the result of a journey from concept to realization as well as a meeting of the minds between artist and client. We at AAU are extremely thankful that Lucasfilm provided this rare opportunity to hear the stories of these bronzes from the artist who created them, and hope that they will inspire students of sculpture to suit up (Noble’s words) and do, or do not — there is no try (Yoda’s words).

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll share some of the other bronzes Director Noble has done for Lucasfilm at the Presidio, including those of Willis O’Brien, Eadweard Muybridge, Philo Farnsworth, and Darth Vader – stay tuned!

For those interested in the Yoda bronze, you’ll be happy to know that The New San Anselmo Downtown Park project will be installing a bronze Yoda — and life-size Indiana Jones — on land donated by George Lucas himself! For details about the park and how you can make a donation to get your name on a plaque installed at the park, visit the San Anselmo Downtown Park Fund site!