By Bethany Miller
Artists Marilyn and Gerry Westgerdes are two people connected through their work on many different levels; they work together at home, at work and on personal projects. The couple, married for 32 years after meeting at art school in Los Angeles, teaches art at Ohio University Zanesville Campus and both have sculptures at branches of the Muskingum County Library System.
One project the couple was especially close on was the project for the Duncan Falls/Philo Branch Library where Gerry and Marilyn competed against each other for commission to create a sculpture for the building and were both the finalists in the competition.
A surprise win for Gerry
In the summer of 2002, the board of trustees for the Muskingum County Library System held a competition to commission public art with interactive features and historical value at its branch in Duncan Falls. Marilyn, who already had created a sculpture at the John McIntire Library branch in Zanesville almost two years earlier, was the first to develop an idea for the sculpture. "I saw [her proposal] and thought I was not going to be able to beat that one," says Gerry, professor of art at Zanesville.
After completing some research, Gerry submitted a proposal of his own for a sculpture to depict Johnny Appleseed, who was in the Duncan Falls area centuries ago, reading with a young boy looking over his shoulder. Appleseed always placed a big emphasis on reading. The sculpture also possessed interactive ability with room for children to pose with Appleseed and the child.
Gerry won the commission and started work on his sculpture during the Christmas break of 2002. After several steps of creating the sculpture's skeleton and numerous molds made of plaster, wax and other materials, the sculpture was sent to professional casters at Cooper Mill Bronze Works where the final stages to create the bronze statue occurred.
Gerry's sculpture was dedicated last September. But he says he was surprised his proposal was even chosen over his wife's.
"We both have equal gifts and talents," Gerry says. "She deserves these opportunities." Marilyn put her career on hold years ago to be a mother and a homemaker so Gerry could concentrate on his own artistic work.
"I'm glad she got the first commission, and I would have been glad for her to get this one," he says.
Marilyn's deserving success
Marilyn's sculpture at the John McIntire Library depicts four young children walking and running with books in hand, representing the importance of the library for children's education. "The sculpture signifies the community involvement with the youth and the library as a place for kids to learn and grow," Marilyn says.
She began the artwork in 2001 after an anonymous woman came to her and personally commissioned the sculpture as a memorial to her mother. After a number of stages similar to those of Gerry's sculpture, Marilyn finished the bronze figures nine months later. Executing the sculpture was somewhat of a challenge for Marilyn because the figures were modeled after real people with particular personalities. "As an artist, I usually like to do more stylized work," Marilyn says, "but the commission wanted this to be realistic."
Marilyn is now working with stain glass. "I need variety between 3-D and two-dimensional work," she says. She also hopes to put together proposals for future library projects.
The libraries' board of trustees has made a commitment to have public art at each of its branches.
Bethany Miller is a student writer for University Communications and Marketing.