Arnold Mikelson

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Arnold Mikelson (1922-1984) was a Latvian artist who specialized in wood carvings. He was married to Mary Mikelson, who was a politician in White Rock, British Columbia. Mikelson's work includes the creation of the Mind and Matter Gallery in South Surrey/White Rock, B.C. He was commissioned by forestry giant MacMillan Bloedel (now Weyerhaeuser Canada), the Province of British Columbia and the City of Surrey, and was chosen for the position of Chief Designer for Royal Crown Derby Porcelain of England.

Early life

Mikelson was born in 1922 in the small river town of Rauna, Latvia. He was the son of a cabinetmaker.[1] At the age of four, a visiting aunt noticed him carving a piece of wood on his father’s workbench. From then until the age of 16, he studied various artistic crafts. Trained as a mechanical engineer, he retained his passion for art. At the age of 17, Mikelson was awarded a Gold Medal in the Latvian seaport capital of Riga for his contribution to the arts there. [1][2]

Career

Mikelson gave up painting at the age of 28 and settled on sculpture almost exclusively. His sculptures remain in many museums, private collections, and in galleries around the world.

In 1940, during World War II, the Russians invaded Latvia. Mikelson fled to Germany. Over seven years in war-torn Germany, Mikelson managed around 40 employees. These were artisans who made wooden hope chests, jewelry boxes, wooden plates and chandeliers. Mikelson created intricate carvings. Many churches throughout Germany contain carved chandeliers crafted by him.

England

In 1947, after the war, Mikelson emigrated to England. Mikelson began working at the 200-year-old Royal Crown Derby Porcelain of England,[3] hired to create three-dimensional sculptures. Mikelson was the company’s Chief Designer. His design leadership, including the famous "Chelsea Birds" now a world favorite, helped revitalize and rebuild Royal Crown to some of its former grandeur. To this day, his work, consisting largely of bird sculptures, remains on display in the Royal Crown Derby Museum in England. The "Chelsea Birds," made famous in 18th Century England, can also be seen in Mikelson’s Mind and Matter Gallery in Canada.

Canada

On a 1954 visit overseas, Canadian Senator Donald Cameron, appointed to the government after a significant career in public education with the University of Alberta, encountered Mikelson’s work at an art exhibition in England. Cameron, among his many significant achievements, was head of the Banff School of Fine Arts in the 1930s, and maintained a leadership connection with that facility over the years. He acted as its head during his time as a Senator, and he kept that position until 1969. The Banff School was world-famous even in 1954, and Cameron didn’t hesitate when he approached Mikelson and offered him a management and teaching position in the facility that sits in the Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park.[4]

Mikelson accepted Senator Cameron’s offer and immigrated to Canada. However, when he travelled to Banff and saw the school, the finest in Canada with an international reputation, Mikelson turned down the opportunity, as the Banff facility was considered by European standards to be tiny and insignificant. Mikelson had no way of knowing at that time that this was the very best that the comparatively new country of Canada had to offer, and he came, over time, to regret the decision he had made when he walked away from Senator Cameron’s offer.

Unlike Europe, opportunities in the arts in Canada were few and far between, and even a talented, world-class sculptor has to eat. Mikelson went to work as an architectural draftsman, thanks to his early training. He excelled in that profession just as he excelled in his design and execution of his superb carvings and sculptures and developed the reputation of being one of the finest at his job in Alberta. He designed many schools, hospitals, and residential buildings throughout that province and British Columbia.

After 11 years on the Prairies, Mikelson decided to leave Alberta for British Columbia, with his new wife Mary. [5] In 1964 they settled in the Lower Mainland of B.C., where Arnold designed and built The Mind and Matter Gallery. [6] His ides came from the premise that "the mind creates it … and the matter, which is the hand, illustrates it." He worked long hours creating, experimenting, and building. He worked in stone, in metal, and created jewelry in precious metals such as silver and gold. He surrounded himself with exotic woods for conversion into works of art, including satin walnut, Tennessee aromatic cedar, and mahogany, all kiln-dried, all destined for greatness.

Late career

In 1971 the second-largest art college in the United States, the Amy Ryan Fine Arts Center in Abilene, Texas commissioned Mikelson to create three sculptures for its Fine Arts Center. "Roadrunner", a roadrunner attacking a rattlesnake was one of the pieces, depicting the state bird of New Mexico. The "Mockingbirds", the state bird of Texas, along with "Inspiration", a seven-foot angel completed the set. Today these works are on permanent display at the Amy Graves Ryan Center of Fine Arts in Abilene.

Exhibitions featuring his work were held at the British Columbia Provincial Museum, and at locations all across Canada. In 1976 on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, he was invited to participate by the International Carvers Association with 1,500 entrants from all over the world. Mikelson’s work won in 11 out of 15 categories, he was given the Gold and Silver Medals for his accomplishment, and he was invited back the next year as a judge for the International Carvers Exhibition.

A year later an appeal to American woodcarvers to help raise funds for the maintenance of Southwell Minster, a Cathedral in the heart of rural Nottinghamshire, near Sherwood forest. In the early 1970s, the Church Commissioners passed on the responsibility of maintaining the building to the Cathedral itself. There was minimal money available for this project and fundraising began. Organizers felt that demonstrating wood carving and exhibiting fine sculptures on the grounds of the cathedral, and at nearby castles, would be a great fundraising idea. Mr. Mikelson was one of two Canadians to join the American carvers. The American Woodcarvers Association helped with the organization and the sum of 350,000 Pounds, nearly a million dollars Canadian, was raised.

Mikelson’s recognition and reputation continued to rise with the strength and assertiveness of the bird sculptures that he created. He maintained that a person only needs four hours of sleep each day, and used the other hours in pursuit of his art.

Service and philanthropy

He taught at several local schools, trying to help interested kids learn his profession, he would demonstrate carving to the students, and allowing them to touch, feel, and try their own small hands at carving. The Mind and Matter Gallery was thought as a "tribute" to Mikelson.

Mikelson was well known in media, the subject of stories and articles in such diverse publications as Fine Woodworking Magazine, Beautiful British Columbia Magazine, and Westworld, as well as such newspapers as the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and the Vancouver Sun. CBC Television and CTV both featured him at various times.

Family

Mikelson and his wife Mary have four children together. Daughters Margit, Sapphire and Myra and son Arnold Jr.[7]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Sculpting Artists in British Columbia". Artists in Canada. https://www.artistsincanada.com/british-columbia/artist/arnold-mikelson-sculptor-2201/8. Retrieved 14 September 2018. 
  2. "Mind and Matter Gallery -" (in en). http://mindandmatterart.com/arnold_mikelson. 
  3. Ocean Park Library, Surrey, British Columbia
  4. Ocean Park Library, Surrey, British Columbia
  5. Kwantlen Polytechnic University, South Surrey arts advocate awarded honorary degree from KPU, May 17, 2018
  6. Kwantlen Polytechnic University, South Surrey arts advocate awarded honorary degree from KPU, May 17, 2018
  7. "South Surrey gallery owner’s lifetime commitment to arts honoured - Surrey Now-Leader" (in en-US). Surrey Now-Leader. 2018-06-04. https://www.surreynowleader.com/entertainment/south-surrey-gallery-owners-lifetime-commitment-to-arts-honoured/. 

External Links