ART FOR THE PEOPLE

Having devoted her life to her art, sculptor Evelyn Raymond spends her old age in solitude

          except for the company of her students and a pair of cocker spaniels. Her students, some of whom are in their 90s, keep the 88-year-old artist feeling young. The spaniels (she's watched eight dogs die in her lifetime) make her feel old. Apologetically garrulous, she's happy to entertain visitors. She has outlived most of her peers in the art world, and when she talks, she numbers the dead: "He's dead now," she is inclined to say. And then: "That's the way I end most of my conversations now."

          Raymond designs colossal sculptures in bronze and steel. Her pieces command public spaces out of doors. They are civic sculptures, art for the masses. Probably her best known work is the 20-foot sculpture she built from hammered copper for Mutual Service Casualty corporation in 1959. Possibly familiar because it was featured in Mutual Service advertisements, it features the massive head and torso of a man (representing Mutual Service) cradling a small family in a broad, arc-shaped sling. It now hangs on the St. Thomas field house, where the symbolism has translated nicely. "It was supposed to represent protection--the insurance company protecting the family. Now St. Thomas calls it The Family." Raymond has built works on a similar scale to decorate churches, hospitals, public squares, even the Capitol rotunda in Washington, DC.

          There are a few lucky people in this world--Evelyn Raymond is one of them--who never have to worry about why they were put on the planet. From an early age, sculpture was her calling. "When I was a kid," she explains, "I'd get books and keep looking at the pictures, and I kept hoping that they would become something that I could feel, not just flat. I'd stare at them and stare at them." She schooled herself in art on her father's farm in Duluth. "On the farm above Lester Park, way in the distance you could see the lake. I used to walk down and I'd sit, and you could find a whole school of sculpture in the rocks that you pick up, and those craggy rocks. I had a good eye. I'm so aware of form and I always have been. I don't know where it came from."

          She took art classes in the 1920s at Duluth High School and in 1928, she enrolled in the School of Art, which later became MCAD. There, a schism developed--a pair of teachers, Modernists, John Haley and Charles Wells, were let go by the conservative director of the school. Raymond was in the modernist camp and she left with a couple dozen other students to form her own school, the Minneapolis Arts Students League. But in 1930, her mother took ill and Raymond's loyalties were tested. Bohemian sculptor, leader of the breakaway Modernists, she might have turned away from Duluth forever. But Raymond was and is a "shy farm girl from Duluth," with a sense of filial duty that most of today's art students probably lack.

          Raymond returned to the dairy farm and nursed her mother through death. She raised her younger siblings. She rose at dawn to cook for the full dairy farm retinue. She read every book and magazine about art the Duluth Public Library owned. Eight years passed. "It was the Depression," Raymond says, shrugging. "I probably couldn't have had any work anyway. But it was kind of disappointing for me to be jerked out of my excitement of being a sculptor and back washing dishes and cooking for all those people for eight years, up at five o'clock in the morning. It was a big dairy. It was different."

          Different, yes. But after her mother died, Raymond lost no time in returning to sculpture. "I tried to get a job. I went around to all the employment agencies, they wanted to give me a job as a cook, because that's what I'd been doing. Somehow, one of the agencies there had heard of the WPA Art Project." The WPA put America back to work after the Depression, artists and writers included. The government sent painters scurrying across the nation to paint murals, photographers documented, writers wrote oral histories. Raymond and a handful of her peers ended up at the Walker Art Center teaching sculpture in a WPA art program. She just picked up where she had left off when her mother got sick.

          In the years since, Raymond has made her mark on dozens of local churches and public buildings, weaving her designs into the municipal fabric of the state. Her last great work will top them all, she promises. It's a secret. She can't reveal the location or the timeline of this career-crowning sculpture, an essay in brushed stainless steel, 27 feet high, which she calls "Celebration of Peace." The final details have yet to be worked out.

          In the meantime, Raymond, whiles away the time at home, wheelchair bound, feeling old. "When you get to be my age, you're just glad to be alive," she says.

--Joseph Hart

PUBLICDOMAIN

          From the Bosses From Hell File*, we present Mr. Don Hand. A park director with the City of Minneapolis's Parks and Recreation Board, Hand cost his employer (that is, you, the taxpayer) $62,251.69 in LOST WAGES, MENTAL ANGUISH,punitive damages, and attorney's fees after the city's Commission on Civil Rights found he harassed a 60-year-old employee. Among the commission's findings of fact:

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