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Sculptor Jesús Moroles to Create Reflecting Pool Installation for Joslyn Art Museum
When the water level lowers, the river sculpture will be revealed.
OMAHA, NE.- American granite sculptor Jesús Moroles has been commissioned by Joslyn Art Museum to create a keynote, large-scale installation as a focal point of Joslyn’s Peter Kiewit Foundation Sculpture Garden, now under construction. The installation, titled The Omaha Riverscape, will include a reflecting pool featuring the landscape of the Missouri River, column fountains, and a fountain wall on axis with the atrium entrance. Work on components of the Moroles installation is underway at the artist’s Rockport, Texas, studio with installation scheduled at Joslyn in mid October. Joslyn’s installation will be Moroles’ first public commission in Nebraska (another piece is in a private collection in Lincoln).

“Jesús Moroles is an immensely successful, instantly recognizable contemporary sculptor, and one of only a handful of major sculptors working today in stone,” noted Joslyn director J. Brooks Joyner. “His remarkable pieces are monumental in scale, but also possess an inviting, intimate quality. Observers touch the stone and connect with it, and in Jesús’ own words, they ‘christen it’ and ‘the truth of the material’ comes out. For his exquisite marrying of granite and the element of water in an outdoor setting, Moroles is a perfect choice to create an installation that will serve as the Museum’s doorstep and the spine of Joslyn’s garden galleries melding art and nature.”

Central to Moroles’ installation is a reflecting pool that will be oriented east–west on axis with the Museum’s glass atrium. Approximate pool dimensions are 118 feet long, 25 feet wide, and nine inches deep (with the depth varying at some points). Visitors leaving the atrium will stroll along a pathway of Lake Superior Green granite toward the reflecting pool. The floor of the pool will be a landscape sculpture — a topographical “map” of a section of the Missouri River and one of its tributaries, the Platte River, created from some 184 large slabs of Academy Black granite, weighing a total of 50 tons. The granite will be shaped and placed so as to leave a meandering trough representing an aerial view of each river in 1806, the final year of the three-year epic journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Moroles’ interpretation of the Missouri and the Platte Rivers emphasizes their history and importance to Nebraska and encourages visitors to consider where they are and to connect to their “sense of place.” It also serves as a reference to Joslyn’s internationally known Maximilian–Bodmer Collection. The German scientist–explorer, Prince Maximilian of Wied, along with Swiss artist Karl Bodmer, travelled up the Missouri River in 1832–1834, using the same route as Lewis and Clark nearly 30 years after their expedition, recording their voyage in detailed journals and nearly 400 pencil, ink, and watercolor renderings which are today the gem of Joslyn’s art of the American West holdings. The pool will show the segment of the rivers from Sioux City, Iowa, southward to the confluence of the Missouri and the Platte.

The interactive landscape pool will fill and drain on a timer set to demonstrate, in continuous daily rotation, the ebb and flow of the river water, replicating to scale the rivers’ true height in various seasons. When swollen to capacity, the depressions marking the rivers will “flood” and the installation will appear to be a traditional reflecting pool, with even coverage of water. When the water level lowers, the river sculpture will be revealed, and visitors will be able to walk on the granite slabs forming its banks. A heating system following the river path will be installed under the pool’s granite floor for use during the winter months. The system ensures that accumulating snow along the sculpted path will melt, sustaining the visual river element year-round.

Rising from the floor of the reflecting pool will be one and one-half foot square column fountains of granite (one Mountain Red, one Carnelian, and one Dakota Mahogany), each about 12 feet tall with water bubbling from its top and trickling down to its base. When the pool is flooded, the base of the columns will be hidden; when it is at a low-level point in its cycle, the full columns will be visible.

The reflecting pool will be dissected by the Dodge Street entrance drive, a bridge forming a low, gentle arch near its eastern end. To the east of this segment of drive, the pool will end in a dynamic “Broken Earth” fountain wall designed by Moroles. Comprising the wall are eight and one-half tons of Dakota Mahogany granite. Twelve feet tall, nearly 26 feet wide, and four inches deep, the wall will adhere to a concrete core, already in place, with water cascading from its top.

Moroles embarked on his “Broken Earth” series in the last few years. For each work, the artist selects a large piece of granite and breaks or “tears” it into pieces with carbide tipped chisels and hand tools, then carefully reassembles the stone, using hidden steel rods to secure the segments. “I take a piece of earth that might otherwise go unnoticed, break and tear it to expose all of its wonderful, never-seen elements — the weight, texture, color, and reflective qualities of this living stone born of heat and pressure in the center of the earth — and then ‘fix’ it so it’s seen now for its aesthetics, its beauty . . . put it together again so it will be noticed,” said Moroles.

Jesús Moroles was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1950, the son of a Mexican immigrant, José Moroles, and his wife María. When Jesús exhibited a talent for drawing at an early age, his parents enrolled him in art classes at the local YMCA for one dollar per class. Moroles’ instructor was so impressed with his talent she offered him more expensive private lessons at the same rate. At this time, Moroles was also apprenticed to his uncle, a mason, and began working with masonry tools and large-scale concrete structures. As a teen, he ran his own successful silk-screening business prior to enlisting in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Skilled in mathematics, Moroles became an electronic equipment repair specialist stationed at bases in Southeast Asia and around the United States, including Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base. Moroles lived in Plattsmouth in the early 1970s, often visiting Joslyn Art Museum during that time. After four years in the service, he returned to Texas, earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of North Texas in Denton in 1978, apprenticed in El Paso with well-known sculptor Luis Jiménez, and then spent a year in the great marble studios of Italy and Michelangelo’s beloved quarries at Carrara. Learning that marble was too soft for his personal esthetic, Moroles returned to the United States, set up his own shop in 1980 in Waxahachie, Texas, and began his first granite sculpture — a fountain 12 feet high in granite and hand-polished stainless steel. The piece sold immediately, and Moroles’ career was born. In 1982, Moroles resettled in Rockport, Texas, near his parents, and established a large production facility for the creation of granite sculpture, overrun by peacocks raised by his father and operated nearly around the clock by himself, his family, and some 20 employees.

Today, Moroles travels often — to Egypt and China, including Tibet, in particular —to recharge his imagination and create substantial sculptural work on-site, often combining forces with native artists and workmen. The Moroles Cultural Center in Cerrillos, New Mexico, served as living quarters and exhibition space for visiting artists from around the world. Moroles has received innumerable honors and distinctions, among them representation in the “Twentieth Century American Sculpture” exhibition at the White House in 1995 and his appointment to the board of commissioners of the Smithsonian Institution’s National American Art Museum (1996 to 2008). This past May, Moroles and his sister, Suzanna, were special guests of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush for the Cinco De Mayo celebration dinner in the White House Rose Garden.

Moroles’ work reflects the ideas of eternity, stability, and longevity. “The stone itself is the starting point, and I feel a connection to it,” he said. He aims to “make the stone important by drawing attention to it, and to show the finished pieces as a result of an interaction between man and nature.” Moroles chooses pieces that can retain a suggestion of their original formation after he has worked on them. He does not use plans or drawings, but rather allows the stone’s veins, colors, and textures to guide him. In a process he calls “tearing granite,” Moroles gradually cracks the stone with “wedges,” and “feathers,” never completely sure of the results but always pursuing his masterpiece. He will sometimes keep a piece of stone for years before beginning work on it, and he has as many as 20 pieces going at any one time. He always stops his work at the moment when it rests on the fine line between natural and manmade. He prefers his work to retain the crudity of the material and does not use pedestals, so that his objects may sustain their link with the earth and gravity.

Certain forms appear again and again in Moroles work — the totem, obelisk, and stele (monolithic stone with writing on it) — reflecting similar monuments erected since prehistoric times around the world. Some of his innovations in granite include pieces that appear woven into a fabric; those that can be thrummed like harp strings to produce cascading, bell-like notes; and massive stone sculptures — his “rocking benches” — meant to be set in motion.

Moroles presents his sculptural vision through the assemblage of complete environments, or multipart installations, in museums and galleries, and through the participation on the part of his audience in the realization of many of his works. His sculptures have been included in over 300 museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide. Work in progress includes a courtyard plaza for the University of Arkansas. He recently completed the Dreamscape Plaza




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