Some people still don’t know that sculptors Andy Moerlein and Donna Dodson are a couple, never mind a happily married one as of November.
“We still get that funny look that says, are you two together?” Moerlein said during a phone interview.
For years, he said, people would jokingly refer to the other as “your wife” or “your husband,” more because of their artistic partnership — when they sculpt together, they call themselves the “Myth Makers” — but to outsiders, Moerlein thinks, their relationship had always been a little nebulous.
“And we encouraged that [vagueness]. We don’t want people to think our collaboration, our teamwork [is] because we’re a couple; it’s a choice we both make. We both have very good careers,” Moerlein said.
At the moment, they’re doing the long-distance thing, and so their interviews happened during a three-way phone call.
If you know New Hampshire sculpture at all, you’ve probably seen their work. They both make regular appearances at the Mill Brook Gallery’s Sculpture Garden (in fact, that’s where they met).
Moerlein teaches at The Derryfield School in Manchester and is well-known throughout the art community, and though Dodson lives in Boston, her work’s seen Southern New Hampshire University and UNH Durham grounds. “Moose Myth,” a gigantic sculpture made of brambles, decorated downtown Nashua, Portsmouth and Concord until last year, when it was sent out in flames at the 2014 Black Ice Tournament, a “final poetic blaze of glory.”
Any doubts about their relationship, however, will be cleared during their most recent projects as “Myth Makers.” One is a series of five 18- to 26-foot sculptures, each of which symbolizes a unique, mythical bird. They began building this fall in Moerlein’s Bow driveway, and once cold set in, they continued to work in a Boston warehouse.
Crafted from maple saplings, wire tires and found objects, the “Avian Avatars” are meant to indicate transformation, and they stand stoically in New York’s Garment District now through April (i.e., the fashion district — so the transformation theme fits well).
Moerlein is inspired by the natural world, and Dodson, by animals. They work individually and collaboratively, but the work they do together, for the most part, is temporary in nature, meant to last a few years, and made from natural or site-specific materials.
Since the January installation, they’ve been making frequent trips south to ensure the “Avian Avatars” are standing well. But on Valentine’s weekend, they will drive to New York for another show at a coffee shop/gallery called Harlow’s. The owner, attracted to their public art and the story behind it, invited the pair to participate in two shows with the bird sculptures. Many of their family members will be flying or driving to the Big Apple to see “Love Birds.”
Moerlein and Dodson met at the Mill Brook Gallery & Sculpture Garden in 2009. Dodson had a solo show, and Moerlein’s sculptural work decorated the annual outdoor exhibition.
At first they were friends who admired one another’s work. Their paths crossed frequently; both displayed sculpture in New Hampshire, and both are members of the Boston Sculptors Gallery. They first decided to hone their abilities and collaborate during an invitational snow sculpting contest in Jackson in 2010. They created “Celestial Elephant.”
“We thought that the two of us working on something [together] could do something bigger than on our own,” Dodson said. “We had Andy’s signature technique that he’s been working with for 40 years, and also my vocabulary for forms and animal heads and mythological figures.”
Something clicked. Moerlein admired the enthusiasm, skill and fearlessness with which Dodson worked.
“Donna’s one of the most brave and ambitious people I’ve ever known. She won’t repeat herself, and yet, she finds the kernel of familiarity in everything she does,” Moerlein said. “When we did the elephant, it was a shape she could just attack in the snow. She took big chunks off right away. … Once she took the big pieces away, she learned and developed an understanding of how it worked, and the details that were unique to snow.”
Their combined artist identity — the Myth Makers — took on a life of its own. They apply to national and international residencies as a team — so there’s no fear that one will get accepted and one won’t — and they’ve created art and traveled together to Switzerland, Alaska, Maine, Michigan, Peru and Italy. They have a checking account and liability insurance for the Myth Makers, and when it became extremely serious, they began taking legal advice.
“The reason we started working together was so we could spend time together. The collaboration went really well. We enjoyed each other’s company, and what started out as a flirtation with each other’s work became a really deep collaboration and also a deep relationship. It’s been both parts that have grown simultaneously,” Moerlein said. “It’s interesting to work with someone, and then realize, ‘Oh! I’m in love with them.’”
As seen in the February 12, 2015 issue of the Hippo.