Sunday Advocate Magazine, November 21, 1999  
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BY ANNE PRICE - Advocate arts critic

La. still 'home' for Michigan sculptor

 

 Sculptor 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."
  Lavergne 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 were big."
  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 each one."
  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 up.
  "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 a loft.
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 ceremony."
  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 explained.
  Pleasing everyone with a public sculpture is almost impossible, and when it is celebrating a major figure it is especially difficult, believes.
  "That's just the way it is and that's the arena we're dealing with."
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."

Al Lavergne’s depiction of Martin Luther King, commissioned by Shreveport, has finally been accepted and installed.

Al Lavergne now heads the sculpture department at Western Michigan University, and his large sculpture, "The Committee,' has just been installed on the campus.