Mythic Metalsmith

The Illinois State Museum’s Chicago Gallery has a summer exhibit that wraps up this Friday called “L. Brent Kington: Mythic Metalsmith.” If you are in the Chicago area, and have time, go! The gallery is on the second floor of the Thompson Center, and admission is free. There are no excuses for missing this show.

Weathervane (1978)

Much of the exhibit consists of very minimalist works in forged iron, many of them kinetic sculptures like the one above where abstract forms pivot on delicate fulcra. These works are intensely captivating, and fun to interact with; although I felt at one point as though I was going to knock a piece off its pivot, the gallery supervisor assured me that many of the works have even endured heavy storm winds in the artist’s backyard without falling.

L Brent Kington SculptureThese are exquisitely crafted sculptures, and Kington is famous for establishing the only MFA program in blacksmithing (at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, a program overseen by an endowed faculty position for an “L. Brent Kington Chair.” Nevertheless, I personally gravitate more towards Kington’s more fantastical, toylike works. Kington created many of the smaller sculptures in the exhibit in the 1960s as toys for his children. The motifs and forms he worked with would later inform his transition from small work in precious metal into his larger cast bronze pieces and eventually forged iron works. The drawing I posted in my sketchbook today is one of these transitional works, a large bronze pull toy based off of the earlier silver versions of his “little bird” form.

Kington created the first cast for these little birds in 1960. Eventually the bird evolved into a goblin-like human caricature, the bird and the goblin figuring prominently in Kington’s work through the mid ’70s. I quite like the little birds—they have more expression and a stronger sense of play than pretty much any other sculpture I have seen lately. Kington’s work is definitely influencing some of the things I’m working on right now—I am looking forward to seeing these little birds hop around!

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