By Gina Malone
Dan Bresnahan’s sculptures have been shaped by place as well as by imagination, from his earliest days growing up along the Lake Michigan shoreline in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. “My formative years in that area were a wonderful introduction to the natural world,” he says. “The bays, rivers, beaches, estuaries and surrounding forests were an important element of my visual vocabulary.”
After a four-year enlistment in the Air Force, he received a BFA and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A sense of place again played a role in his education as an artist when he was mentored by sculptor Narendra Patel, whom Bresnahan calls “a visually acute, observant and encouraging instructor. Through Narendra’s guidance, I was introduced to a non-Western experience of encountering contemporary sculpture.”
With a grant from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Bresnahan was able to immerse himself in the natural world of New Mexico. These days, working in his Cedar Mountain studio near DuPont State Recreational Forest, he continues to rely on the settings that have fed his artistic imagination, and he and his wife travel whenever they can. “We particularly love India, Sri Lanka and that part of the world,” he says. “This past fall, we flew to Norway and went on a working ferry, sleeping on it for seven days as it sailed in and out of the fjords, up and around the Arctic Circle. Learning different cultures also contributes to our work and our personal growth.”
Bresnahan’s wife, Peg, is an accomplished poet and he collaborated with her to illustrate her first book of poetry. “We continue to support and reinforce each other in our respective arts,” he says.
Bresnahan grew up in a large, artistic family. Four of his five siblings are affiliated with the arts as a painter/ educator, a set designer, a wood turner and a jeweler. His mother was always crafting and his grandmother was a painter. His grandfather and father were furniture manufacturers.
“I received a great deal of encouragement,” he says, “particularly from my grandmother who was always eager to take my sister and me along on her plein air outings. Whatever we accomplished was pinned to the wall at home. I have maintained that love for drawing. It continues to be an important aspect of my visual processing methods.”
A full-time sculptor now, he has worked as a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s art department teaching introductory and advanced courses in sculpture and drawing and at Peninsula School of Art where he taught figure modeling. His work is found in private and corporate collections nationwide, including Phillip Morris Inc., Manpower International Corporation, Peninsula School of Art and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico.
His sculptures consist of welded steel or carved wooden pieces, sometimes enhanced with bronze and copper. “These materials offer me great flexibility for expression through forging, welding and carving,” he says. “I choose them because they will last for years before finally returning to their natural state.” The steel pieces are usually landscape abstractions that he tries to visualize through drawings. “My interest ranges from views of the broadest horizon to the smallest leaf and flower. With wood, I try to let the form suggest itself, which lately has become more figurative.” The wood he uses is reclaimed, supplied by a grandson who works part-time as an arborist. “Any material I use is respected and greatly appreciated,” Bresnahan says.
The meaning of his work is personal, he says. “I prefer that each person who views it derives his or her own interpretation.”
To learn more, visit DanBresnahan.com or call 828.884.6806. Find Bresnahan’s works at Red Wolf Gallery in Brevard and Margaret Lockwood Gallery in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.