A landmark of downtown Lawrence since 2009, the towering 18’ Red Dancer sculpture welcomes art students and aficionados to the Lawrence Arts Center 365 days a year. Its creator, artist Jan Gaumnitz, donated the sculpture to the Arts Center after her 2009 exhibition, Altogether, because the sculpture seemed to belong where it had been placed for that show.
Her inspiration came from found materials in a Kansas City bottoms salvage yard where many of her large-scale sculptures are fabricated. Gaumnitz says, “Seeing little dancers coming in and out of the Arts Center building in their little tutus, along with the scale and brilliant red color of the sculpture against the metal and glass of the building is just right — it just seemed like the place it should stay, so Jack and I donated it!”
Gaumnitz lives with her husband in a wonderfully secluded spot on the west edge of town among beautiful gardens dotted with an incredible collection of large and small outdoor sculptures. Her light-filled home, which is a work of art itself, is filled with colorful paintings, ceramic vessels and sculptures, works in glass, and mixed media by a variety of artists. Many of the artists in her collection are her friends, while other pieces were collected on her travels over the years.
Growing up on a farm in Minnesota, Gaumnitz remembers an impressive butterfly collection. She credits developing her love of nature and art, which began at a very young age, to growing up in that environment. Eventually moving to Madison, Wisconsin, Gaumnitz earned her degree in education and taught for a while, later becoming part of the Young Audiences Arts for Learning as a visiting artist for about 10 years. In the ’90s, she dedicated herself to becoming a full time artist and teaching workshops in studio spaces on her property. She works in a wide variety of mediums, including mixed media, painting, printmaking, ceramics, and large scale found object sculpture. Her public work is permanently installed in such places as the Community Health Facility, the KU Geological Survey, the KU School of Business, and the Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
Gaumnitz’s sculpture, Bloom, was dedicated in 2018 at the Lied Center for their 25th Anniversary. The 15’ high steel piece is surrounded by a pollinator garden. Gaumnitz likes her work to have a message, and her recent sculptural work seems to be focusing on themes of conservation. She is currently working on a sculpture of a butterfly in a section of habitat and pursuing a partnership and location where the sculpture can inspire the appreciation of blooms and butterflies.
Her 10th anniversary Lawrence Arts Center exhibition, titled Altogether 2018, featured works in a variety of mediums. The most popular piece was an interactive sculpture of a ship where viewers were invited to write dreams for the future on bits of fabric which were attached to branches on the ship’s deck. She took things a step further by gifting a class of young preschoolers with pieces of original art. Students came to the gallery in small groups to meet Jan and learn about the symbolism represented in the boats in her exhibit. The children were invited to select from a variety of ceramic pieces that they then wrapped up to take home to their families. Smiles were shared, ideas were discussed, and the gift of art and inspiration was exchanged.
For Gaumnitz, the Red Dancer symbolizes how everyone can pursue their artistic dreams. “From young children to older adults, they can find community and creative outlet at the Lawrence Arts Center,” says Gaumnitz. The sculpture has become a beloved fixture at the Arts Center entrance, often featured in photos with students and families to mark events and occasions. The Red Dancer is the perfect icon to represent our generous, active, and creative community of members, the heart of the city!
The Red Dancer is 18′ high x 5′ wide, diamond painted steel. View more art by Jan Gaumnitz on her website, which can be found at jangaumnitzstudio.com.
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