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A Kiselewski apprentice remembers

By Nancy Leasman, Long Prairie MN, visual and written word artist

Originally published in the Browerville Blade

Joan Jackson, an artist who apprenticed with Kiselewski in New York City from 1969 to 1972 witnessed this determination in the daily schedule Kiselewski set for himself. “He would come to work (at his studio), across town on a bus, wearing a suit and tie. He made coffee and read the newspaper. At 9:00 or 9:30, he put on his work clothes. He worked on commissions, making casts in plaster or mer-babies, until noon. Then he changed back into his suit and went downstairs to a restaurant for lunch. I went with him when I was there. After lunch he changed back into his work clothes and worked until 5:00. Then he changed back into his suit to go home on the bus. On Mondays he bought groceries.” That was his routine.

Jackson once asked him why he worked this way. He responded that you have to work whether you have inspiration or not. It was just his way to maintain the formality of wearing a suit; probably learned during his days of training in Minneapolis, New York and Paris.

“He was very generous with his time. There was no charge for me to work with him. I could do my work and watch Joe. In exchange I typed up contracts for him. That was the greatest thing: it taught me how to do it (the business side of art) and how to deal with clients.”

Jackson recalls the time a client of hers came in to view the plaster model of a woman, the man’s wife, which she was preparing to cast in bronze. The client said the model didn’t look like his wife. The client wanted her eyes larger, and larger. Jackson made a few adjustments and agreed to show the model again after further refinements. 

Joe told her that it takes time for a client to adjust to seeing their family member in the form of a clay portrait. She knew the eyes were too large and changed the sculpture back nearly to the way it had been when the client first saw it. When he returned to see it again, he was quiet. Then Jackson realized he was crying. He said it looked just like his wife. Joe was right. The man needed time to get accustomed to seeing his wife in clay.

“Joe liked to experiment with different materials,” says Jackson. “Joe loved to experiment with different ways of casting plaster (in particular) and make it look like other materials. I have a small piece of his that he cast in plaster and soaked in hot wax. The result is that the piece looks very much like ivory.” 

After viewing photos of the sculptures in the Christ the King grotto, Jackson believes they are of cast concrete. “He would make a clay model and then create a mold of it. He cast plaster into that mold and made refinements in the plaster. Then he made a mold of the plaster model and cast bronze into that mold.” In the case of the statues in the grotto, Kiselewski stopped with the cast concrete version.

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