National Lutheran News

Paul Granlund shaped a new artistic landscape

Paul Granlund prepared a self-portrait.

Paul Granlund prepared a self-portrait.

The Lutheran pastor’s son declared, “All my sculpture is religious.”

Sculptor Paul Granlund molded molten bronze into art as an offering of grace. At the time of his death September 15, 2003, from respiratory failure at the age of 77, two Minnesota exhibitions of his art were underway.

One, at American Swedish Institute in south Minneapolis, opened in August. A retrospective showing of Granlund’s work from the 1950s to the present continues at Hillstrom Museum of Art, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, through November 9.

“I’m always trying to say two things at once,” Granlund commented about his art. Often the two things are death shadowing life and life transcending death, for example in “Winter and Summer Nymphs” at Minn-esota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska. A fetal winter nymph is curled in earth like a seed in Christ’s parable. Her dancing summer sisters can scarcely contain the life force that impels them skyward.

Born into a Minneapolis Lutheran pastor’s family, Granlund became a world citizen through his art but maintained his Minnesota roots. A graduate of Minneapolis Central High and Gustavus Adolphus College, he studied at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan and, in the 1950s, spent significant years in Florence and Rome under Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships.
He returned to Minnesota to teach and chair the sculpture department at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (1959-1971) and to become sculptor-in-residence at Gustavus Adolphus (1971-1996). His sculpture began appearing in cities across the United States and abroad, stretching from Nagasaki, Osaka and Hong Kong to Moscow, Paris, Assisi and Uppsala, Sweden.

“Paul was an articulate artist, fascinated by life and intrigued by biology, geology, astronomy and mythology,” says Granlund’s Gusta-vus colleague, William Frei-ert, professor of classics and author of Paul Granlund: Spirit of Bronze, Shape of Freedom (1991). “He combined the human figure with abstract geometric shapes, always metaphorically.

“Paul looked at the cosmos as essentially human,” Freiert continues, citing “Anthrosphere,” located at St. Paul’s World Trade Center and also in Nagasaki, St. Paul’s Sister City. “Paul opened the earth, representing each continent as a human figure. It’s large enough to stand inside. If you draw an imaginary line from any figure through the center, it will touch another human figure.

“In a way Paul’s whole life was a response and a reaction to his father’s pietism. His father was a fairly literal-minded biblical preacher. Paul was philosophical and cosmological. The Lutheran interface between faith and intellect is typical of Paul’s work,” Freiert says.

“Another expression of Paul’s Lutheranism is the way in which his works capture the theology of grace. All reality is undeserved gift. It takes form, for example, in Paul’s sculpture, ‘Birth of Freedom’ at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis [pictured above]. The miracle of life emerges from the cosmos, a tetrahedron. The organic emerges from the inorganic, God’s spontaneous gift of resurrection from sin and death.”

During Granlund’s final hospital stay, a visitor told him, “I admire your sculptures, especially the religious ones.” Granlund lifted his oxygen mask to respond, “They’re all religious.”

“Having a church with six Granlund sculptures was like working with an art gallery of faith,” says the Rev. Paul O. Monson, former pastor of Lutheran Church of the Good Shep-herd, Minneapolis. “Paul proclaimed the faith visually so well that children as young as our two-year-olds respond to his work.” Other metro area Lutheran churches displaying Granlund sculptures are: Calvary, Park Ave.; Central; Mount Olivet; Nativity, St. Anthony; North Heights, Roseville; and St. John, Lakeville.

Lutheran colleges owning Granlund pieces include Concordia, St. Paul; Concordia, Moorhead; Gustavus Adolphus; St. Olaf; and Wartburg, Waverly, Iowa.

Mac Gimse, St. Olaf emeritus professor of art, calls Granlund’s “Celebration” the college’s signature sculpture, part of it a shattered crucifix. “The crucifix is absolutely blown apart, Cubist in structure but like someone had stepped on a land mine. You can’t tell whether it’s flying to pieces or coming back together. It becomes a crucifixion and a resurrection all in one.”

While still a young artist, Paul Granlund selected bronze sculpture as his medium for its permanence. “Long after we are ash,” Freiert reminded family and friends attending Gran-lund’s memorial service, “Paul’s flying [sculpture] will sing to our children’s children’s children.”

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Christenson co-edited “Granlund: The Sculptor and His Work,” 1978.