Garver Feed Mill story by Lynn Slattery Hellmuth

Sculptor Lynn Slattery Hellmuth shares her story about renting space in the Garver Feed Mill building to use as her sculpture studio.

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  • INDEX:


    4:24 – HAD STUDIO AT GARVER MILL 1986-1999







    18:14 – REACTIONS TO GARVER IN 2019


    Jennifer Gurske: This is Jennifer Gurske. I'm at the Garver building on November 2, 2019, and I'm speaking with Lynn. Lynn, could you say and spell your last name?

    Lynn Hellmuth: Okay. My maiden name is Slattery, so my art name is Lynn Slattery Hellmuth. S-l-a-t-t-e-r-y H-e-l-l-m-u-t-h. Two words.

    Jennifer Gurske: Thank you. Welcome. Thanks for doing this.

    Lynn Hellmuth: Thank you.

    Jennifer Gurske: And we could start out by telling us a little bit about your relationship with Garver.

    Lynn Hellmuth: Okay. When I was in graduate school, I wanted to create some large sculptures. And art materials being so expensive, I wanted to find something that I could work large and inexpensively and I wanted to make a series of animal sculptures that were very earthy and kind of rustic looking. So I settled—I had just read a book by Delia Owens about Africa and I thought, you know, it would be fun to do hyenas. I made three eight-foot tall stacks of hyenas, and they were maybe three on each stack and they were made with branches that became the legs for all of the hyenas, whatever level they were at. And also, I covered—I made chicken wire bodies and covered them with Garver's burlap.

    And then, I made them at my university art studio as I was a grad student, and I hadn't thought about how you get them out of the building [laughter]. So when I finally realized I could not get them down the stairs, fortunately there was a little hallway to a balcony. So we had to go and take them over the balcony and out and then somehow get them over to where the exhibition was. And then, thank God, when I came—well then—so I had also—I made another sculpture at the same time that was called "Ring of Power," and it was a circle of females. Each one had a woman who was like the spirit guide for that figure, and so there were little pouches and wonderful little prayer things in each of them.

    And there was one space for the viewer, so that made thirteen. They were made out of Garver burlap that I figured a way to stiffen. So they were just burlap—from Garver's [laughter]. Anyway, right away, before I even graduated, I entered several national exhibitions with them and they both got in. One was to the National Sculpture Conference: Works by Women. There were all these marvelous female sculptors there, which was so exciting for me at the time. It was in Cincinnati [laughter], which presented another conundrum. So I had to rent a big box truck and drive them to Cincinnati and leave them there and then go back and pick them up a month later, but it was just a thrill to be in that exhibition. The other piece, the "Ring of Power" figures, got into an exhibition in the State of Oregon, and it was winter, and I was trying all kinds of ways to try to figure out how to get these these big figures to Oregon.

    Finally, I thought, there's just no way. It's winter. I'm not going to take a big truck and pay for it, going over the mountains. So I contacted them and said "I am so sorry. I was so thrilled to be included in this exhibition but I just can't get them there." And they were so, I mean, typical women. They were so nice. They said, would you mind—could we still show the slides? I said, are you kidding? I would love for you to show the slides. So that's what they did. And then, I worked for—I had a studio here from 1986 to 1999, just thirteen years—I love the number thirteen anyway, so that's great for me. I made all kinds of sculptures out of Garver's burlap. I made "Top Dog" and "Underdog" and "Sant Angelicant", who thought she was going to heaven without doing anything to deserve it. And I did "Dog Eat Dog," which was a connected series of dogs and—oh, I did a lot of them.

    Where's my resume?

    Jennifer Gurske: How did you sort of connect using the Garver bags with your art?

    Lynn Hellmuth: Oh, well, all that burlap that they gave me from Garver's.

    Jennifer Gurske: Yeah, did they just donate it to you?

    Lynn Hellmuth: Yes! Yeah. So Jim Hatch and Wayne Wendorf were running Garver's Feed Mill at the time and I came out and asked—I guess I forgot to tell you that—came out and asked if they had any burlap and they said yes. And so I hauled a bunch of it back to my university studio, including a couple of baby mice which my friend Nancy, who's such an animal lover, made them a little house and tried to save them but they were too young, I think, and we didn't have any mouse milk [laughter]—thank God—to feed them. Anyway so [phone rings]—anyway that was—so then I made all kinds of other sculptures—sorry. Turn [the phone] off. I just have a whole—I had to spend a lot of time in big box trucks hauling each of them to different exhibitions around the Midwest. I went to Indianapolis and then closer to Chicago, to Indiana and then Chicago, Milwaukee, around the state to—and then Dubuque.

    I made a series of sound sculptures and I included twelve other artists. And we made all these sound sculptures and they opened the children's museum in Dubuque. I did—and that was—where that show opened was at a school for the visually impaired but they were the best audience I think we ever had. I had musicians play for the openings at that, and then kids could play on the sound sculptures. But they were so attuned, you know, because they couldn't see. They had that wonderful facility of hearing. So that was great. And then I made—I organized another exhibition called "Sticks," which was created with—well, it was a bunch of artists, I don't remember exactly how many.

    But they made sticks or stick imagery artwork from jewelry, from tiny little pieces to huge sculptures. And they were clay and there was wood and, mostly, some sticks made out of clay things. And so that one traveled around the Midwest too and then Marshfield and all these other cities. Then I started doing sculptures that were more feminist and spiritual. I did an exhibition called "Honoring the Crone: The Wise Older Woman," and that one traveled around the Midwest too. It was just kind of, those were so special for me. And then I did "She of a Thousand Names," an exhibition about the goddess. And those—both the crones and the goddesses—were made with old wooden ironing boards standing upright.

    I tried to make the crones as if they—from any culture. I tried to make them so anybody could identify with—and so I had a hundred people write in praise of an older woman who'd been a positive influence in their lives and the writings were just tearjerkers. I mean, I would see men—there were men and women who wrote—and kids. You could see people going out, remembering their grandma. "She of a Thousand Names" was an exhibition about the goddess. When it was here, there were twelve pieces and crones, and then when they went to—and I had a group of artists with me and then different musicians and speakers and writers. In Peoria, they added another bunch of—they asked people if they wanted to make—other artists—if they wanted to make a goddess.

    That was a much larger exhibit because we included all of those people. I've been in peace exhibitions and AIDS exhibitions and I've also—they've also been used by the dance faculty at the university as props for their dance. So [inaudible].

    Jennifer Gurske: [inaudible] Garver.

    Yeah, well I loved working at Garver. I had a huge space, which after trying to get them out of my university studio was so nice. You could just walk them out the door because there were high ceilings. And I ended up practically filling the space at the end of the building that was.

    Jennifer Gurske: Were you in the same building that?

    Lynn Hellmuth: Well, behind the screen in the other room, the black curtain, I was behind that. And I don't think they've finished that area yet. And then next to me were the guys who worked here and a terrible little bathroom. We were laughing about that this morning [laughter]. I was so happy to see there were bathrooms here that weren't...

    Jennifer Gurske: They're very nice.

    Lynn Hellmuth: I mean, they were all men. I don't think those bathrooms had ever been cleaned. I tried not to use them but once in a while I had to go in there. I think those guys probably thought I was crazy with the kinds of sculptures I was making but they were really nice to me.

    Jennifer Gurske: What did the space look like when you were here? You know, was it [inaudible]?

    Lynn Hellmuth: This space was a wreck. I was here from 1986 to 1999.

    Jennifer Gurske: Okay.

    Lynn Hellmuth: Yeah.

    Jennifer Gurske: So it was sort of coming into that more deterioration phase.

    Lynn Hellmuth: Yeah. My studio was fine. I mean, it was just brick walls, which was wonderful to work with. I got "Honoring the Crone," they wanted me to bring them to a poetry conference in DeKalb because they had just bought—I don't know if it's still there. They just bought this building as a women's center. They opened the women's center, but I needed to have crates made to move them. And so I contacted one of the moving companies and some guy there said, yeah, I'll make you a bunch of crates because, I mean, those are big crates. They're like coffins, you know [laughter]? Of course, once again, I'm in the big box truck and only hauling the crones around. And so the odd thing is, to pay for those crates. That show was about grandmothers, "Honoring the Crone: The Wise Older Woman," right?

    I read about a foundation called the "Thanks Be To Grandmother Winifred Foundation", and so I contacted her. She gave me a grant to pay for all of the crates. It was her grandmother who had left her this money, and she decided to use it to encourage other women's work—people who had done something or were organizing women's conferences or whatever. At the end of that, she sent a photographer around who turned out to be a famous photographer. He died a couple of years ago and Doug Moe wrote a column, part of his column, about him. His name was Bob Giard.

    Jennifer Gurske: Oh, yeah!

    Lynn Hellmuth: G-i-a-r-d. He was very famous, apparently, for writing a book about gay writers. He came. He took some wonderful pictures, the one that's out in the slide. The pictures, the photographs were sent to one of the Seven Sisters colleges for—there's a little—I don't know what you call it, but—a place where they store all of these pictures of these, that he went around and took, all of the "Thanks Be To Grandmother Winifred" grantees. That was wonderful. I also did—and I don't know if you want to know more about other stuff—but I also applied to the Arts Board for a grant to do a sculpture installation. What I had in mind was called "Song of the Wind: Homage to Ehecatl, the God of the Wind."

    They say Aztec—but it's pre-Aztec, really. I applied and then I was looking around at our state parks—where can I put this big installation [laughter]? A woman who had been on the jury—I feel like, I love serendipity and I love these things that happen. One of the women who had been on the jury at the Arts Board called me and said, could we have these at UW-Eau Claire? I was like, yeah [laughter]! I was very happy about that. We put up the sculpture. Basically, it was a circle—I do like circles because it's good energy—a circle of poles, that—each one had some little musical thing that I created for the wind to play—never very noisy, but lots of little things. That was at UW-Eau Claire for I don't know how many years.

    At the same time, they bought one of my animal sculptures to put in their library. That was a Garver, a Garver burlap piece too. There's another one at West High, and there was one at Edgewood College—I taught there for a semester. Then I wanted to do a piece out in nature that was all-natural, so I contacted the Dane County Parks and asked if they would be interested in helping me with this. What I wanted was a circle of trees with one space for the viewer to complete the circle, and they were arbor vitae. They looked like my "Ring of Power" figures—they don't anymore because they've gotten so big they're getting—they're getting leggy [laughter]. Now they have legs. They put that at Token Creek County Park. It was a circle of women, and then in the middle, I asked if they had a stone that you could sit on and meditate.

    That was special for me too. Garver's was a wonderful place for me to work. It didn't always smell good because I think they were using some toxins. I never saw a mouse in my studio but one day I did hear some noises and they were—I was looking around in the boxes thinking, what is that? Two little bitty kittens—well, three actually, but one was dead—and so we were trying to figure out how to get them where the mother would find them because my studio was locked. So I don't know how she got—they're sneaky, those cats [laughter]. Another time, I came to my studio and the door was open—and I always locked the door because I was a little anal about that. Well, apparently, I think young kids had gotten in because all that was amiss was all these Super Balls that sometimes I used them for—to make—for drums [laughter]—and they were all over the floor and I thought, God bless you kids [laughter]!

    You took the junk! So I don't know if there's—I have lots of articles and lots of things that you don't need to know about.

    Jennifer Gurske: Extensive resume, that's a lot of experience.

    Lynn Hellmuth: Well, I haven't done anything for a few years but I'm percolating [laughter].

    Jennifer Gurske: Even an exhibit here of things that you...

    Lynn Hellmuth: Oh, that would be neat.

    Jennifer Gurske: That would be wonderful.

    Lynn Hellmuth: Yeah.

    Jennifer Gurske: To have that connection between what you've done and now.

    Lynn Hellmuth: Well, that's true. They should have an exhibition space—maybe in my studio?

    Jennifer Gurske: Yeah.

    Lynn Hellmuth: Of course they need to make money and that wouldn't make any money [laughter] I guess but. You know, really and truly.

    Jennifer Gurske: In a space like this, like say this is like an open space that someone's been renting.

    Lynn Slattery: Right. Well, I did ask Bryant if they would want the hyenas. The hyenas were the first big piece I made with animals and they're called the guardian hyenas because all my professors were male and they didn't—I thought, okay, I'm going to build something big that's going to give me a little protection since they don't always understand—I mean, one of them had the audacity to ask me one day, "Well what are you here for? Are you just a housewife looking for something to do?" And I was like, you've got to be—I wouldn't be here if that was what it was. So anyway, so I think they got a little better as my work got better maybe [laughter]. But there were difficult elements there. So yeah. And then "Ring of Power"—so I was going to take a little power back.

    Jennifer Gurske: That's amazing! I mean, especially having spent time here and experienced here.

    Lynn Hellmuth: Oh I love this building! Isn't it amazing?

    Jennifer Gurske: How do you like what they've done to it?

    Lynn Hellmuth: Oh, it's incredible! I'm so glad that they did it after I left because I couldn't have afforded one of these spaces now. Well, even at the time, we had five teenagers at home, and so it was nice to get away [laughter] and go to my studio. Anyway, I think that's about all I have right now.

    Jennifer Gurske: That sounds great. Thank you so much for coming in and sharing your...

    Lynn Hellmuth: It was a pleasure for me too. It was nice to talk to you.