Big Stuff Dreams

The first time I met Wolfgang he was speaking at the Hudson Opera House. An architect and artist, he was discussing structure and design. A model of a large crustacean-like figure straight out of a George Lucas film was displayed on a table next to him.

“I needed to build a case for my cello,” he began. “It had to be strong and lightweight, the equivalent of an egg carton, but I was stuck, so I went to the supermarket and bought a whole fish, took it home and cut it in half.”

I wasn’t alone in wondering, “Is this guy crazy?” But his clear and quiet demeanor compelled us to listen further. He explained that the skeletal structure of the fish in cross section demonstrated its strength and ability to protect its contents. I was fascinated by his logic and his imagination.

Wolfgang Stockmeier was born in post war Germany in the northwestern city of Rheine. “As a young man I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t dare,” a light chuckle runs through his words, a backward look at youthful insecurity. “I liked drafting so I chose architecture.”

He studied at Dortmund Industrial Center then sought out postgraduate studies that challenged him. The architect side of him has designed dozens of homes and buildings, “We have somehow gotten it the wrong way round. Instead of cramming our countless needs, equipment and gadgets into a box, would it not be better to first define a meaningful life then find the appropriate form to house it?”

Architecture could not contain him; like all things inherent to our true nature, the artist in Wolfgang kept resurfacing, “Space and light and how they work together intrigues me, drives me.”

Jennifer Millman was born in Framingham, Massechusetts. She studied art design and architecture at Parsons School of Design. “Straight architecture bored me, spatial concepts interested me, but I thought the discipline of architecture would be good for me. Complexity and conceptual combined with solid training created more depth, made my ideas more concrete.”

On a trip to Germany a friend took her to the Architecture Museum in Frankfort. There she saw one of Wolfgang’s sculptures, “I fell in love with the piece and thought, he must be a very interesting man.”

“I learned so much about Jennifer when I first saw her work,” Wolfgang interjects. Their creative work spoke volumes to the other.

After a short courtship they married. “Artistically we are constantly tugging each other back and forth with ideas,” says Jennifer.

“We work as a team,” Wolfgang smiles.

With two children, Otto and Friedolin, they moved to Hudson in 1995. Jennifer home schools the kids, her work and dedication is clear and apparent in the results; Otto and Friedolin are two very bright, imaginative and open boys.

The concept of public art fascinated Jennifer and Wolfgang. For Arts Walk 1999 they created “Private Eye.” Having modest financial resources and a great deal of imagination they used cardboard, wood and paint to create a series of eight red, curiously shaped viewing booths and placed them along Warren Street. Stepping into a booth, your view was guided through a funnel or mirror or kaleidoscopes to focus on a specific detail of street life not typically noticed. I recall passing one booth that weekend, saw a pair of legs sticking out from beneath the red cardboard shape, inside I heard laughter; a private space and emotion in a very public place.

A series of other public art works followed: “Blaueswunder-Bluewonder” at the Opera House, “Alles Paletti” at Spencertown Academy and “Pipe Dreams” in front of Carrie Haddad Gallery.

In 2001, with the help of Operation Unite and young people from the community, Jennifer and Wolfgang installed “Juncture – An Act of Placement” at 360 Columbia Street.

“Juncture” was a 24’ tall, 5’ diameter cylindrical sculpture leaning against the side of a garage. The cylinder was constructed from translucent lime-green panels, mounted around a structure of wood, plastic and steel cable. Painted on the wall directly behind the cylinder was a large pink/magenta geometric shape. At night the illuminated cylinder became an emerald lamp that bridged the gap between art and the community at large. One neighborhood woman told them, “I don’t know what it is, but I love it.”

“Truck drivers slowed down to look at it. ‘You’ve made Columbia Street magical,’ people told us people,” Jennifer smiles. Neighborhood kids discussed “Juncture” in relation to the other sculptures Jennifer and Wolfgang had created around town. “We’re creating a collective memory, truly engaging the community and that’s important,” Wolfgang says.

Using simple materials their sculptures create wonder and conversation, stir and connect people, strangers and neighbors alike; it is a lovely gift.

Having a real studio is their dream, a place to create large sculptures instead of constructing them in their back yard or living room. “To have a place to build really big stuff,” Wolfgang smiles, “that would be a dream come true.”

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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