What is it?
Dean Meeker (Orchard, Colorado 1920–2002 Madison)
90 x 27 x 27 in.
Gifted 2016, West Bend Friends of Sculpture
About the Work
This curvaceous bronze sculpture of the ancient Greek goddess Athena is the largest and most important work by the multifaceted artist Dean Meeker, who achieved international acclaim for his sculpture and technical innovations in printmaking. The goddess of wisdom, but also handicraft and weaving, was an obvious subject for Meeker, who had studied classical mythology as an undergraduate at Northwestern University and was surely familiar with Athena’s role as a patron of male heroes.
Although her traditional attributes, an owl and olive branch, are missing, Meeker subtly alludes to the figure’s identity by sheathing her body in hundreds of rolled and cut bronze plates that create a highly patterned, woven skin, perhaps a clever nod to the goddess of weaving. Shaping and assembling the bronze plates was arduous and time-consuming, but also allowed the artist to display his own artistic prowess as a sculptor of the female form, a perennial favorite of sculptors throughout the ages.
The theme of the tragic hero had an allure for Meeker throughout his almost sixty-year career. Similarly, on the formal side, so did sinuous line and contour, regardless of his chosen medium. His painting Blue Lady from 1948, a two-dimensional work created decades before Athena, demonstrates a similar elegance of line and interest in surface pattern—again, an unnatural “skin”—that are hallmarks of his work.
After forty-six years as a professor of graphic arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Meeker retired in 1992 but remained a frequent participant in international exhibitions and received numerous awards. His sculptures and prints today are in more than one hundred collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The Museum of Wisconsin Art has the largest collection of his work.