Aiming to curate a museum gallery, Denver-based photographer Willie Petersen and his cousin Erik Petersen, a Bronze Sculptor, set out to Arizona to capture imagery of western artists for their collaboration, titled Inspiration to Creation: The Hidden Life Behind Bronze. From a visual perspective, the goal was to photograph environmental portraits of the artists at work displayed alongside the bronze pieces each sculptor created.
And as much as we’d love to keep you on your toes right now about the outcome of the pitch, we can’t! The talented duo majorly impressed the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, in Wickenburg, AZ and almost instantly sold them on their idea.
Geared up and ready to shoot for weeks at a time, Willie and Erik began their year-and-half long marathon, around the Grand Canyon state meeting and interacting with the brilliant sculptors themselves: John Coleman, Deborah Fellows, Evelyn Fredericks, Susan Kliewer, Bill Nebeker, Kim Obrzut, and Ken Rowe.
It was awesome being able to peek into the artists’ lives, as some of the locations are hard to access as an “outsider.” We were fortunate enough to study the Hopi Reservation with Evelyn and explore a Wildlife Refuge in Norther Phoenix with Ken Rowe.
Kim, also native to the Hopi Reservation, shared with the team her recent creation from her signature Hopi Maiden series, called Star Girl. This piece was the inspiration behind Willie’s and Erik’s idea to photograph Kim in front of the Milky Way. With only one hour to capture the stars at their brightest, Willie, Erik, and Kim headed over to Sunset Crater, where the duo forgot their tripod, but still managed to photograph the most beautiful picture of Kim. Able to think quickly on their feet, the cousins found a sturdy log and piled towels on top to act as their trusty tripod for the evening.
After concluding their time with the artists, Willie and Erik began to carefully select their favorite images and face the toughest part of this venture – installing the project, itself!
To be honest, we had no idea what we were doing when it came to the installation. Haha! Curating the museum was tough and we had to ask ourselves a lot of questions: Are the lines of sight accurate? Is the walking traffic flowing correctly? Are the pieces drawing the viewer in?
With nothing to worry about, the exhibit was a huge success. Willie even tells us how one museum goer not only viewed the gallery many times but was close to tears on the closing days of the exhibit.
We have been just blown away with the response. It’s an exhibit for people who truly love art and can draw connections between images and their corresponding sculptures.
It wasn’t long after that the duo found themselves reinstalling the project at the Phippen Art Museum, in Prescott, AZ, where they also included a video of the bronze casting process that was filmed in Erik’s studio. The video played on a loop at the museum and served to viewers as a deeper examination of the craft.
Hoping to fulfill the saying “third time’s a charm,” Willie and Erik are in correspondence with a large Georgia-based museum where they hope to expand the show for a fresh set of faces.
Video Producer: Evan Swinehart
See more of Willie at williepetersenphoto.com!