Michael Stanley: Picking up the Pieces

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This feature is part of the “Nine Lives” feature from the summer 2013 issue of VISIONS magazine profiling nine ISU faculty members who are mixing it up in and out of the classroom

Back Story: Born in Kansas City, lived in Colorado, graduated from high school in western Iowa, got a B.F.A. in sculpture from the University of South Dakota, joined the Merchant Marines, worked as an assistant at a limestone carving symposium in Bloomington, Ind., moved to New Orleans and worked at the School of Glassworks and Printmaking.

Life changer: Hurricane Katrina happened while I was living in New Orleans, and I ended up losing everything, which was hard. It was very difficult. I still feel some of those ramifications today. I got back four months after the storm hit, and the house I was living in had been gutted and torn down. There was nothing to really salvage. After (another) four months, I came to the realization that I needed to either take out loans from a bank or go back to graduate school. And that’s where a lot of problems started. I lost my entire portfolio. I lost all my work. I had played it safe – I had copies of the work in a fireproof safe, but the safe got destroyed. It was taken out with everything else. Literally I don’t have any work prior to 2006. Applying to grad schools was hard. Every place I applied to was the same – “We really feel sorry for you, and we appreciate your situation, BUT we can’t let you in if you don’t have any work to show.” There was really no proof that I was an artist.

How I came to Iowa State: My sister who lives in Omaha called me and said her husband’s brother went to Iowa State for architecture and said they had a fine arts program and that I should give it a shot. I contacted Iowa State and I came up and got a tour and they accepted me on a temporary basis… and I’ve been here ever since. It was a really quick transition. So I got my master of fine arts here in integrated visual arts in 2008, and I’ve been teaching here for five years. This is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place – seven years.

What I do: I teach woodworking, contemporary sculpture, drawing, introduction to 2- and 3-dimensional design, and metalsmithing. I actually have two full-time jobs: I teach and I work in the studio. The days that I’m not teaching, I’m in the studio for 10-12 hours a day. I’ve done a range of sculpture commissions for national competitions and local projects.

Favorite class to teach: Contemporary sculpture. It’s something I feel very comfortable teaching. It’s fun. We get to use a lot of found things and alternative materials. It really forces the students to get creative in their approach to their assignments.

About my artwork: I love doing public work because it is interactive, and I really feel that art should be interactive. It should be something you can touch. A lot of my work speaks to community. Because I have been a bit of a gypsy in my life I am always seeking out communities. When they built the south addition on the Memorial Union they cut down the biggest red oak tree in the state of Iowa. We harvested the tree and made benches for the Memorial Union. Projects like that I absolutely love. We take something down and we reuse it. As an artist, I struggle with making more stuff for a planet full of stuff.

Inspiration: I really love that intersection of nature and manmade. I love where those two points collide.

First job: I used to mow lawns at a golf course. That was a great job. It was really fun. I did that when I was 13.

Some people might not know: While I was in school in South Dakota, I moved to Italy for four months and learned how to carve stone in Pietrasanta.

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