Maternal Love Soars in Summer Exhibit at Pablo

trio of local artists collaborate on avian-themed show

Tom Giffey, photos by Ma Vue

THREE MEN AND A BABY (BIRD). Chippewa Valley artists (from left) Joe Maurer, Tim
THREE MEN AND A GIANT BIRD. Chippewa Valley artists (from left) Joe Maurer, Tim Brudnicki, and Ross Nordquist collaborated on the new visual art exhibit, "Motherly," which opened May 24 at the Pablo Center at the Confluence.

“We’re not qualified,” Tim Brudnicki quipped when asked about the new maternal-themed exhibit, “Motherly,” he created with fellow Chippewa Valley artists Joseph Maurer and Ross Nordquist, now on display inside the Pablo Center at the Confluence.

The three men are acutely aware that their relationship to motherhood is second-hand – experienced as sons or spouses or in-laws – which is why they describe the exhibit as an homage to the enormity of a mother’s love. And, indeed, it is enormous, featuring multiple elements – including a wooden dove with a 21-foot wingspan and a nest that measures 18 feet in diameter – crafted specifically to fill the Pablo Center’s James W. Hansen Gallery through September.

“I interviewed a dozen or so moms that I respect and look up to,” explained Brudnicki, a woodworker, “and I asked them to define, in a few words, each phase in their experience of parenting” – from birth to leaving the nest.

“That kind of helped affirm the experience, because there were commonalities across the board. We’re certainly not claiming to be experts on the topic,” he added. “It’s just paying respect to it.”

The exhibit had its genesis several years ago when Rose Dolan-Neill, then the assistant director of visual and literary arts at the Pablo Center, approached Brudnicki about creating a single installation to fill the gallery. The concept came to him a year later when his youngest child graduated from high school and he reflected on parenting – specifically the depth of the love his wife of 26 years, Christine, showed toward their children. “As much as I love my boys,” he wrote in an artist’s statement, “I had to admit, this love was a deeper, wider, more fierce, even visceral love.” The idea of a mother bird occurred to him, and the exhibit took flight from there.

To bring the idea to life, Brudnicki enlisted the help of two friends and previous collaborators, Maurer (primarily a painter) and Nordquist (primary a woodworker).

What resulted is a collection of interrelated pieces honoring the roles of mothers in the artists’ lives.

There’s artistic crossover in each part of the exhibit, Brudnicki said, although Maurer was in charge of the elements on the walls (two huge paintings featuring mother birds and a massive wooden structure that represents the flightpath of a bird leaving the nest), while Nordquist wove the enormous nest out of fallen branches, which greets visitors as they enter the gallery. Above it all is the enormous dove, crafted by Brudnicki from pine and poplar, which soars back toward the exhibit’s start, completing a life cycle.

“The idea was ‘Let’s do something big-scale,’ ” Maurer said, explaining that the paintings were completed on pieces of an old billboard with upcycled paint. “I wanted to do something I couldn’t do on my own.”

Nordquist’s nest – complete with a papier-mâché egg – was built in the artist’s yard from stick collected from around his home in Eau Claire’s Shawtown neighborhood. “I was studying some eagle nests through binoculars, seeing how they did things,” Nordquist said, explaining he ultimately had to climb inside the gargantuan nest to shape it.

“There’s something very pure and clean about a mother and her efforts, but she works amongst chaos and disorder,” Brudnicki said. Likewise, while the bird sculpture above the viewer offers such a clean look, the nest below is beautifully chaotic.

Maurer compared the dynamic among himself and the two other artists as much like that of a group of musicians – sometimes conflicting, usually harmonious, creating something unique together.

“I feel like the show is a gift to our community in a way,” Maurer said. “We made it, but it’s not about us. It’s about living your life and having experiences.”

“Motherly” installation by Tim Brudnicki with Joseph Maurer and Ross Nordquist • James W. Hansen Gallery, Pablo Center at the Confluence, 128 Graham Ave., Eau Claire • through Sept. 8 • gallery hours 10am-2pm Monday-Friday, as well as starting one hour before Pablo Center events • An artists’ reception will be 5-7pm on Friday, June 21, with an art talk scheduled for 6pm •