Juneau artist Dan DeRoux, left, works with John Salyers to install his bronze bear sculpture in front of the Auke Bay Elementary School on Thursday.

Juneau artist Dan DeRoux, left, works with John Salyers to install his bronze bear sculpture in front of the Auke Bay Elementary School on Thursday.

Life into art: DeRoux installs new public art in Juneau

The day local artist Dan DeRoux graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School, he and some friends had a conversation that stuck with him for decades.

Each of them was talking about their plans for after school — college, jobs, goals.

“I said ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if you could write a book about the most interesting life that you could imagine for yourself, and then live it? Enter into it, and engage?’” DeRoux said.

At the Mendenhall Valley Public Library, he’s made that thought reality with “Flight of Imagination,” a flight of seven swans hanging from the ceiling. Their wings are the open pages of an unwritten book.

“(That idea) has always hung with me, forever. When the request for proposals came out, I wanted to represent that one somehow. (I was thinking) how do I impart an idea like that to kids? Leave those pages blank, but have them (the birds) going off somewhere (to imply) that could be me, going off on my adventure,” he said.

The swans’ five-foot wings are a sheet of aluminum bent and rolled to form.

“The bodies weigh nothing, and the wings are real heavy,” DeRoux said.

Two of DeRoux’s bronze sculptures welcome visitors at the outside of the new library, as well. “Wisdom” is an eagle and a raven, each standing atop a stack of books.

DeRoux spoke with recently deceased renowned scholar Richard Dauenhauer about the sculptures. Richard Dauenhauer and Nora Marks Dauenhauer, his wife, have published a number of seminal books that are written, bilingual records of Tlingit oral history.

“I was just trying to pay tribute to (Tlingit) ancestors. The library is full of written language, and the Tlingit was an oral tradition,” DeRoux said. “And so to include the people that lived here, the indigenous people, that was a kind of, I thought, an interesting juxtaposition.”

DeRoux created each sculpture by carving blue foam and covering it with a quarter inch of modeling clay. A foundry cut that up into “little bite-sized pieces,” cast them in bronze, and welded them back together. Now, the raven and eagle are about ten pieces welded together, and are hollow.

They’re pretty heavy just the same: the sculptures weigh in at 450 pounds each, with a base of 250 pounds.

Working with bronze is new to DeRoux, and something he’s having a lot of fun with.

It was when fellow local artist Skip Wallen invited him to help out with his whale statue a year or two ago that DeRoux began wanting to work in clay and bronze, he said.

“It’s a 5,000-year-old medium, still going strong,” he said. “It kind of gives you a sense of classicism, to feel a part of that line of artists that have been around for that long, doing that (working with bronze.)

His favorite of his works around Juneau may be the raindrop ceiling at Gastineau Elementary.

“That’s the most transporting,” he said. “It has a magic to it kind of, for the kids. I was thrilled with the way it turned out.”

His work is also at the new parking garage downtown, Harborview Elementary, Thunder Mountain High School, Diamond Park Aquatic Building, and other places.

“I want to make people happy,” DeRoux said. “I want to create something that’s a challenge to me, and brings the most enjoyment to most of the people that I can…. I really enjoy it, the process, trying to find that balance. Something that’s new but (still challenging.)

His most mentally challenging piece may be an encrypted quote at Thunder Mountain High School.

“I met a student that thought it was a mathematical equation,” he said. “I said ‘No, it’s all literary.’”

Though DeRoux might well be the artist with the most public art displayed around Juneau, he’s as familiar with any artist with rejection, he said.

“I put so much time into proposals,” he said. “A huge amount of my time is just iffy, if these things are going to turn out or not. And I have a huge list of rejections. If I had them stacked up, it would be quite a lot of work that comes to naught. And years and years of not getting anything. So it’s just keeping at it and trying to — don’t lose faith, just keep going I guess.”

Right now he’s working on a large suspended wooden sculpture for a school in Wasilla, and a 50-foot-long granite, steel, aluminum, acrylic and LED birch forest landscape for the new Joe Redington school in Knik.

Most recently, Oct. 8 he installed a “whimsical little guy” — a reading bear outside Auke Bay School.

“It’s so meaningful to me to have some way to give back to Juneau,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always hoped that would happen.”

He especially wanted to have his work in Juneau’s schools, he said.

“I wanted to… have something for the little kids to grow up with,” he said. “I would submit and submit to different schools and get rejected, and then to be able to do it, finally, has been really gratifying… I really just love Juneau, as my hometown, and it’s so nice to be able to contribute to it.”

DeRoux is a third generation Alaskan who has lived and worked in Juneau nearly all his life. Over the past 30 years, he has shown his work all over the country as well as in Europe and Russia. His artwork has garnered many awards, including a 2008 Governor’s Award for the Arts, and his work is featured in the permanent collections of museums including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the Morris Museum in Augusta, Ga., the Anchorage Museum, and both Juneau museums, as well as others. His 2012 show at the Alaska State Museum was called “Dan DeRoux’s History of Alaska.”

 

• Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@capweek.com.

Alaskan artist Dan DeRoux, right, works with Ron Reed of Dawson Construction, center, and Juneau Public Library Director Robert Barr to install one of two bronze sculptures at the new Mendenhall Valley Public Library on Sept. 29. The sculptures are of a raven and eagle were paid for by the Percent for Art in Public Places program.

Alaskan artist Dan DeRoux, right, works with Ron Reed of Dawson Construction, center, and Juneau Public Library Director Robert Barr to install one of two bronze sculptures at the new Mendenhall Valley Public Library on Sept. 29. The sculptures are of a raven and eagle were paid for by the Percent for Art in Public Places program.

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