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posted: 7/18/2012 8:05 AM

'Rugged Elegance' opens at Fermilab with reception

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  • West Chicago sculptor Mike Baur's 2011 work "Mainstay" is made of steel and concrete.

      West Chicago sculptor Mike Baur's 2011 work "Mainstay" is made of steel and concrete.
    Courtesy of Fermilab

  • West Chicago artist Stephen Mueller's 2011 work "Last Shuttle" is ocher on canvas.

      West Chicago artist Stephen Mueller's 2011 work "Last Shuttle" is ocher on canvas.
    Courtesy of Fermilab


Submitted by Fermilab Art Series

The Fermilab Art Gallery will present "Rugged Elegance" by Mike Baur and Stephen Mueller on July 17-Sept. 14. An artists reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, July 20 at the gallery, on the second floor of Wilson Hall. The reception is free and open to the public.

Wilson Hall is located at Fermilab, enter through Kirk and Pine Street or Batavia Road in Batavia. The gallery is open before and after Arts, Lectures and Film series events. It also is open by appointment. Contact Georgia Schwender at, call (630) 840-6825 or visit

West Chicago sculptor Mike Baur is best known for his architectural scale concrete and steel public sculptures, but is also prolific in smaller scale works, exploiting any and all available materials he can work with his hands.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Arkansas State University in 1973, he attended the University of Illinois Graduate School in Sculpture (MFA 1975). While in his first year at Urbana, he switched from fiberglass to concrete after losing several large pieces in a tornado. In 1974, he won an international competition to build a 200-ton concrete sculpture in Barcelona, Spain. His sculpture can be found in locations in Illinois, in the United States and in Spain.

His monumental pieces are sited in Taragona, Spain, in The Illinois Department of Transportation Building in Springfield, on the campus of Elgin Community College, in Northpoint Marina in Winthrop Harbor, the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park among others.

"Weight, stability and permanence are important to me; this must be why industrial components, architectural forms and landscapes have always influenced my work," Baur says. "Combining steel and concrete has become a lifelong approach to building form; while often bringing into the mix plastics, wood and stone to expand on this foundational dialogue. I intentionally leverage the implied utility that industrial materials possess while avoiding the literal."

Stephen Mueller was born in Joliet. From the ages of 8 to 20, he lived in Switzerland, Germany and Australia. He returned to America in 1972 to attend the John Herron School of Art where he studied with Gary Freeman and received his bachelor in fine arts in 1976. He received his master's degree in sculpture from the University of Illinois-Urbana -- Champaign in 1978. After graduating he moved to Chicago to co-found Vector Custom Fabricating Inc., a company that specializes in the fabrication of architectural metals and monumental sculpture. Travels to Australia have influenced the direction of his work since 2007.

"My intermittent experiences of the red land of Australia became central to my art after visiting the Kimberley region in 2007," said the West Chicago artist. "I returned home with samples of soil and rock whose colors had intrigued me for more than 40 years. These packets of dirt, in effect, for me, proved to be lightning in a bottle. I now work with a large variety of ochers (also called earth pigments or mineral oxides) ranging in color from white to yellow, orange, red, brown to black, the color of each depending on the impurities of the mineral oxide. In addition to Australian ochers, I use earth pigments mined in France, Italy, Germany, America and India. An elemental form, the arch or mound (perhaps an echo of the termite mound's powerful impact on the Kimberley landscape) is the building block of the compositions. The water based medium allows the different pigments to exhibit their own characteristics, their own fingerprint, like flow and patterns of reticulation. The way different pigments meet, mix or establish a border is unpredictable and the physics of this process is intentionally allowed to leave its mark."

This convergence of art and science occurs daily in the Fermilab Art Gallery. It is a space for art exhibitions, chamber music concerts and where the top quark and big bang are debated over coffee. It is also a quiet space for contemplation and beauty.

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