Dave Engdahl grew up in York, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Penn State University (PSU) in 1963 with a Bachelor of Architecture degree. After graduating college in ’63, just shy of his 26th birthday, Dave was drafted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War. While many of his peers were sent to Southeast Asia, Dave was fortunate enough to serve his country domestically in the American South until 1965. During that time he gained valuable experience related to the field of architecture and engineering.
In 1971 Dave attended The Art of the State, a statewide juried competition for Pennsylvania artists. Because of his background in architecture, Dave was drawn to the sculptures on exhibit. While viewing the sculptures in a state of awe, Dave was struck with the notion that he had it within himself to create similarly.
That same year Dave created two sculptures and submitted them to a juried art show at his alma mater, PSU. Both of Dave’s sculptures were accepted into the show, which he registered as a major success, and both were awarded with an honorable mention, which he again registered as a success. The positive feedback Dave received as a result of this show encouraged him to continue sculpting.
In 1973, after he accepted a position with William Morgan Architects, Dave moved with his young family to Jacksonville, Florida. Upon arriving in Jacksonville, Dave met Charlie Brown and Memphis Wood. The duo introduced Dave to Art Celebration!, an informal group of pioneers in the art community. Dave held a leadership role in Art Celebration! and exhibited with the group starting in 1973. In 1976 four members of the group, including Dave, were selected to exhibit at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. This was one of the early examples of local art on exhibition at the Cummer. Dave continued to show with the group through 1992.
Dave’s resume includes an impressive list of exhibitions, commissions, grants, and awards. Dave is retired as an architecture but is still active as an artist. He also serves his community as a Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville Board Member, Art in Public Places Committee Chair, Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville Trustee, Jacksonville International Airport Arts Commission member, Northeast Florida Sculptors’ Co-Founder and Leader, and Leader of the Senior Architects Steering Committee.
On Saturday, November 5, Dave and the Northeast Florida Sculptors will exhibit a pop up art exhibit as part of PorchFest in historic Springfield. The exhibit is titled Pop Up Art Mob and the objective is to create spontaneous, meaningful, and fun sculptures for the public to interact with. PorchFest starts at noon and concludes at 9:00 PM.
10 Questions with Dave Engdahl
Can you describe the relationship, as you see it, between architecture and art?
Architecture provides space for human activities and serves as inspiration for humanity. Both architecture and art prevail as a lasting record of the highest aspirations of man and of civilization. Technological advances over the last few decades in electronic manipulation, communication, and our ability to translate that into actual construction has allowed us to create buildings that are more akin to sculpture.
You have stated that you create sculptures because of the challenge, proving to yourself that you can achieve a vision that you had to in mind. Is that same challenge what led you to a career in the arts? Additionally, after nearly 50 years as an artist, what has your career in the arts taught you about yourself?
My family has multiple generations of artist and craftperson backgrounds. Thus, I was constantly surrounded by an environment of creativity, problem solving, and hard work. This led to the normalcy of establishing a vision and working through the means to bring that vision to reality. For me, art is about the challenge of this process, not simply the final artwork.
I believe that artists should not be in love with their completed artwork, but should be focused on the next challenge which expands their vision. I believe that an artist should not create his/her work with the sole criteria being to sell. That approach uses other’s criteria, not the artist’s. The artist should use his/her own criteria, resulting in the artwork reflecting and being one in the same with the artist. Conversely, I believe that an occasional commission where other outside criteria comes into play is good because it can open the artist’s thinking to avenues that he/she may not have otherwise pursued.
You do not name your pieces. Instead, you use consecutive numbers as their titles. What number are you currently working on, and what led you to this method of identification?
This year I completed Lamelliform 250. In addition, I have completed approximately 25 commissions and other artworks which are not part of my numbered series. The use of numbers in lieu of descriptive titles allows for the viewer to interpret the work in accordance with his/her own life experience, which the viewer will do regardless of the artist’s title. I don’t like to bias the viewer’s thinking, rather I like to stimulate it.
The meaning of my work expresses something that I cannot put into words—if I could, why would I spend the time and effort to create it? Over my life experience I have built a creative world in my head, through which I process outward and inward stimuli. My artwork becomes the language and means of communication from my world.
You moved to Jacksonville in 1973. How has Jacksonville changed, as it relates to art and culture, between then and now?
In 1973 there was very little in the way of art community, public art, galleries, opportunities for artists, or places for artists to meet and share. Just before I moved to town, a diverse and informal group of well-considered area artists established themselves under the name of Art Celebration!. The primary purpose of this group, which existed through the early ‘90’s, was to provide a forum for artists to meet and discuss art. These were the pioneers in formation of an art community in Jacksonville, and I was fortunate to be part of the group upon my arrival.
You are extremely generous with your time. You serve on several Boards (Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, MOCA, and Airport Arts Commission) and Committees (Art in Public Places Committee). What value have you received from serving your community? Furthermore, what would you say to a younger generation to petition them to become involved by serving on Boards and Committees?
Before I retired from architecture 9 years ago, I had little time to volunteer in the community. Engaging my creativity and business experience with the non-profit sector has been a new adventure, challenge, and learning experience. The learning goes both directions. Being involved in the work of art organizations gives me a much better understanding of what is involved in community art. Currently I’m directly involved in over a dozen specific art initiatives. I believe that I can serve as a connector between arts organizations and make a difference in the community.
Arts organizations are made up of, and supported by, art interested individuals. As an artist, involvement with this segment of the community has provided me with many more opportunities for exposure and sales. A large percentage of my commissions and sales come from people that know me. This is not the main reason for volunteering, but it is a peripheral benefit.
Your resume includes an impressive number of notable commissions. What advice or strategy can you provide modern artists relating to the topic of obtaining commissions and other paying opportunities?
To be considered for big commissions, an artist needs to have already completed similar commissions. This becomes a chicken and egg dilemma. As an artist, how does one obtain that first big commission? I believe that artists wanting to work in the commission arena need to seek out opportunities to commission themselves. Artists need to think creatively and outside the box by putting ideas together that might at first seem not to belong together. And you need to go for it every day and not get discouraged!
After submitting for a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship grant for quite a few years in the ‘70’s and never expecting to receive one, I was surprised to receive a fellowship in 1978. With that funding in hand, I approached the (then combined) Port Authority, proposing to create two large sculptures for the airport. There was no art in the airport at that time. After acceptance of my proposal and successful completion of these two sculptures, suspended over the escalators, and my growing contacts in the art and architecture communities, I received further opportunities and built my resume in commissioned works.
In addition to being a working artist you were also an architect. In 1974 you were unemployed with a young family to support. You viewed your unemployment as an opportunity to pursue artistic endeavors with even greater vigor. What did you achieve as an artist while you were unemployed as an architect and how did these achievements influence your path forward?
During my 5 months of unemployment as an architect in a down economy, I traveled up and down the east coast searching for work. In my travels, I scheduled appointments to show my sculpture portfolio to directors of museums and galleries. That groundwork led to my very first sale and six exhibitions in one year, including my first solo exhibition, which was at the Orlando Museum of Art.
How do you mentally prepare yourself when you begin a new project? Do you have any patterns, routines, or rituals?
Over many years I have assembled a thick notebook of sketches, thoughts, and ideas regarding potential sculptures. Many of these are on shards of paper, airplane napkins and the like. I’m continually adding to this concept notebook, and often go back and further develop sketches that are decades old. I never repeat a completed work since I’ve already proved that I can meet that challenge. When beginning a new sculpture, I work in an extremely focused (manic) mode.
You hired a local firm to create a professional artist website. Instead of paying to have the website built, you bartered with the firm to develop the website in exchange for sculptures. What recommendations do you have for other artists related to the topic of trading works for service? Additionally, what do you believe to be the benefits of having a well-designed online portfolio?
I favor artists offering their work in exchange for goods and services. This gives value to the work. In addition to website creation and maintenance, I’ve traded my pieces for other artist’s work and roofing services.
I consider my website primarily as a good means to introduce my work. Over the years it has led to a few sales, commissions, and opportunities to exhibit (and regular scam solicitations), but is not a main source of sales for me.
Can you describe your studio space and what you feel are essential elements for a well-functioning studio?
My studio consists of three types of spaces: a clean study where I sketch, draw, file, and archive; a dusty shop for production; and my living space where I display and show my completed work. None of these are particularly large, but each is well organized to its respective function.
My artwork is run as a business, with income and expenses carefully recorded for tax purposes. I recommend this business approach for all artists and have given presentations of my experience in this regard.