Published August 7th, 2023 by Sheila Regan
At the eastern edge of Seward, Kimber Fiebiger's bronze characters at the Joan of Art Gallery welcome you to the neighborhood
The Joan of Art Gallery acts as a whimsical gateway to the Seward neighborhood as you enter via Franklin Avenue from the river. Cheerful bronze Humpty Dumpty statues and jesters greet passersby outside of the bright colors and geometric shapes of the building’s exterior.
Inside, Joan of Art Gallery bursts with the physical manifestations that erupt from a wild imagination. Dancers, animals, circus characters, and other flights of fancy decorate the gallery and living area, as well as an AirBnB apartment upstairs.
Inside this dream-like fantasy space, artist Kimber Fiebiger holds court. In her mid-60s, the artist has a muscular build, from years of the athletic work of creating bronze sculptures, not to mention sports she has played in her free time. For years, she played rugby and ice hockey. These days, she’s very active in her golf game.
Jester Fountain, bronze, installed in Malibu.
Fiebiger bought the Joan of Art building in 2000. “I was mostly looking for studio space,” she recalls. She needed room to weld, mold, and sculpt, and the different spaces offered in the building suited her needs nicely. “Then I thought, well, it's a great building, but I didn't have a place to live,” she says. She added a third floor as a living space, and over the last 23 years, has fixed the place up as a passion project. Fiebiger brought her artistic talents to the design of both the working and living areas.
Fiebiger laid the floor, built countertops, and made tables, lamps, plates that adorn the living area. “I'm trying to get everything as handmade as possible,” she says.
The upstairs apartment originally built for herself, now gets rented out as an AirBnB. Business has been booming for her unique space. Fiebiger got the idea when the Superbowl came to town, and has found the side business to be a nice source of income. She also finds her AirBnB clients often end up becoming art customers. Meanwhile, because over the years she did less business out of her physical gallery, Fiebiger converted part of the exhibition space into a small apartment for herself.
The building was built over 100 years ago, and was long used as a kind of factory for different businesses, including Loe Machine and Tool Works, operated by a Norwegian inventor who made washing machines and various voting machines.
Fiebiger’s work space lives in the basement. Recently, she’s been working on a series of giant Humpty Dumpty sculptures for the city of Colorado Springs, where they will be installed downtown.
Eggcited, installation at the Richardson Public Library in Texas.
It’s been 40 years since she made her first Humpty Dumpty. That first one was a much smaller project.
Fiebiger had studied metal casting in college, but after that, she made her living as a potter in the early 1980s. She sold her work at the Edina and Uptown Art Fairs, and went up to the Renaissance Festival, where she dressed like a jester and sold pots. Then, she had the idea of making a small bronze Humpty Dumpty Sculpture.
“They just started selling right away,” Fiebiger recalls. “And then I just kept putting more and more into it because I really liked casting but couldn't afford it. So I built a career slowly, organically into metal casting.”
The past few years have been good for Fiebiger. She doesn’t have to travel to art shows as often, because her reputation has brought customers to her.
“My stuff is expensive,” Fiebiger says. “It's just accidental that I fell in love with bronze. It's a lucky accident, because the one percenters— they buy stuff.”
Fiebiger isn’t shy about her politics, and has made a number of overtly anti-Trump Humpty Dumpty sculptures where the former president is sitting on a toilet, for instance. So it’s with some irony that she recognizes that tax breaks passed during Trump’s time in office has meant the rich have money to buy her art.
Works in progress, courtesy of the artist's Facebook page.
Fiebiger’s love of bronze has to do with the difficulty in creating art with it. “I really like to work hard,” she says. At the foundry at the University of Minnesota’s Art Department, Fiebiger remembers shoveling sand, and pouring 300 pounds of metal. “The Foundry— it was grunt work,” she remembers. “I really liked that aspect of it.”
To make her bronze creations, Fiebiger first makes an armature. For a figurative sculpture, that means making a wire skeleton, but for her Humpty Dumptys, she chainsaws an egg out of styrofoam. The clay goes on top of that, and in that process, she’ll add noses, eyes, arms and legs to create a clay model.
From there, Fiebiger takes silicon rubber to make mold parts. “It's usually kind of like a cow when you go to the butcher,” she says. “Everything comes in panels and parts and stuff.” Once she has her molds, then she heads to the wax room to make a wax print of what she sculpted. Then everything goes in a crate and gets shipped to Colorado to be cast. “That's the hardest part about my business, is taking something that's really fragile and trying to get it across the country,” she says.
When she gets the metal parts back, she welds it all together.
While many of Fiebiger’s Humpty Dumptys boast a childlike joy, she’s also used the form to insert satirical messages. “I’ve kind of crossed the line in a lot of ways,” she says. “There are some where I make comments on the church, there is political stuff, and there are some about democracy.”
She makes abstract works as well, and expressive figurative pieces. Recently, Fiebiger has been experimenting with adding silicon powder for color to her bronze works. “I think it's really cool,” she says. Right now, she’s working on a series of animals inspired by Andy Warhol’s celebrity portraits, where each animal is repeated in different colors. The series is just the latest in a career of dreaming up possibilities. ◼︎
To see more of the artist's work, visit artbykimber.com.
All images courtesy of the artist except the banner image, by Blaine Garrett.
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