Al Lavergne has been in Michigan for a decade now, but Louisiana
still feels like home, he id on a recent visit here.
'It's just something in the air," he said, strolling down
Third Street on a sunny fall day. "My career s prospered
in Michigan, but it feels good here."
was on the Southern University Art faculty for several years
and many of
his public sculptures are installed throughout Louisiana. He
now ads the sculpture department at Western Michigan University,
and his large sculpture, "The Committee," has just
been installed on the campus. The work was his first major
commission in Michigan.
"It's an acrobatic configuration and it took a year and
a half to complete," the sculptor said. "It's about
12 feet tall and 16 across and has four figures."
The forms are arranged in a huge graceful circle, with Lavergne's
signature exaggerated realism.
"More and more those forms look a lot like my family," he
said. "The feet are especially expressive. They are barefoot,
big feet because my family went barefoot a lot and the feet
He explained that he took great care with details, such as
the fingers and toes.
"In that scale, you could play with fingers. There are 40 fingers
and 40 toes on that sculpture. I took three or four days on
He said the work investigates both the process of creating
art with fabricated steel and human anatomy.
Lavergne builds his welded metal sculptures from the bottom
"I never cast my forms, I just build them," he said. "You
have more freedom that way, and it's direct, but you're never
sure what you're going to come out with. I just take the metal
and it evolves.
"It's an adventure, and it's quite demanding. As I become involved
in a piece, I allow it to change."
His new piece took a year and a half to complete, working on
weekends and summer breaks. It's crafted of steel ranging from
a quarter of an inch to an inch in thickness, weighs more than
two tons and balances on two points.
One of Lavergne's works has been purchased by the local arts
council in Michigan and he has served on the council.
Lavergne now has his own studio, something that makes it possible
to create large public works on this scale.
The studio has 12-foot front doors, 16-foot
clearance, a 50 by 40 foot space with a crane that runs the
entire length and
Louisiana boasts several Lavergne public sculptures, including
his bas reliefs on the facade of the State Archives building
and a large metal sculpture inside.
His "The Politician," which officials removed from
the plaza of the state insurance building because they didn't
like its message, was located, restored and is now on view in
the 1999 exhibition in the LSU Sculpture Garden.
Controversy in public art is almost inevitable, the sculptor
said with a grin, and reported that his depiction of Martin Luther
King, commissioned by Shreveport, is finally accepted and installed.
"They locked it up for two years and said I took the money under
false pretenses," he said. "Some wanted a totally realistic
statue of the man, but I allowed him to be a source of energy,
a symbol of what he meant to people. The Arts Council supported
me, and imagine what it felt like to me when I attended the dedication
The King sculpture shows him as a powerful influence for peace,
radiating energy. He is flanked by a man and women (Lavergne
says they are not identified but simply represent the general
public) and his elongated arms embrace them.
"It's all bronze, and I allowed the welds to stay in the garments,
enhancing the idea of energy radiating from the man," Lavergne
Pleasing everyone with a public sculpture is almost impossible,
and when it is celebrating a major figure it is especially difficult,
"That's just the way it is and that's the arena we're dealing
Lavergne also builds some abstract pieces, and is current:
doing a new series involving chairs.
I'm playing with rocking chairs," he grinned. "We always
had rocking chairs in our houses. I'm making them of fabric and
steel, with a rawhide seat. I'm even making a two-seater."
His abstracts define space in a three-dimensional format.
Lavergne was in town to serve on the state Division of the Arts
panel on visual arts, which makes grant recommendations to the
State Arts Council. He welcomed the invitation both as a professional
challenge and a chance to visit friends and family in Louisiana.
It gives me a chance to see some of what is going on in art in
Louisiana," he said. I visited my family in Southwest Louisiana.
This will always be home to me."
Lavergne’s depiction of Martin Luther King, commissioned
by Shreveport, has finally been accepted and installed.