“Our relationships to things raise questions about our roles,” observes Idyllwild Arts Academy’s new sculpture teacher, Chris Groth. “So the vast majority of the work I do has to do with our relationships to things.”
The shaping by things of our social roles, of how we relate to other people, isn’t necessarily something to lament.
“My work’s not about commodification,” the Wisconsin native continues—not about reducing people to dollar values, not a critique of capitalism.
The world is physical and can’t be imagined without things. Before people have cause to argue about capitalism or alternatives to capitalism, we seek things to wear on our bodies and other things to help us get from place to place. And things as we find them in nature may not fully satisfy us, so we transform them.
That transformative labor has fascinated Chris at his public high school which had “a wonderful arts program,” at St. Olaf College in Minnesota where he studied for his B.A. in Visual Arts, and at the University of Minnesota where he earned his M.F.A.
“So one of my pieces is a replica of an anvil made from needle-felted wool.”
Transformation of the soft, fluffy wool that we wear on our bodies into something hard—though not as hard as an anvil—depends on a repetitive motion (wikihow.com/Needle-Felt) similar to the motion needed to make horseshoes.
Even though Chris’s art is unassuming in its focus on patient, painstaking process, the imaginative element is startling: how many of us would recognize the parallel between wool-felting, which appears so gentle, and the backbreaking toil of a blacksmith?
Chris’s blend of dogged patience and soaring imagination made him an ideal fit for six years with Leonardo’s Basement (leonardosbasement.org), the Minneapolis-based nonprofit makerspace for children where the “emphasis was on the kids and their ideas.” Curious children obliged him to teach sculpture, but also furniture-making, invention-prototyping, and “whatever else the kids wanted to explore.”
The kids of Idyllwild Arts are older, but their imaginations remain young, so Chris has found that he loves “working with the students in a prolonged way and on an in-depth level, and getting support for my own artistic pursuits.”
Idyllwild Arts, whose mission is changing lives through the transformative power of art, has so far responded with love of this artist whose work of changing lives begins by transforming things.