This week's interview is with sculptor Ted Strandt, a self-taught artist, board member at the and the owner of Strandt Monuments in Justice, Illinois.
Strandt not only provides monuments for dearly departed humans, but a lot of his work is also about creating monuments for dearly departed pets. He's a straight shooter and pulls no punches, a "tell it like it is" kind of guy who's proud of his heritage.
Ken Reif: Who are you?
Ted Strandt: My name is Ted Strandt, 54 years old, I grew up in Elmwood Park. I started work in the monument business, that's a big part of my identity. When I started in this business in 1979, my grandmother liked that because her father was a stone cutter and on a recent trip to Denmark I was presented with a family book and that goes back to 1770.
It turns out that my great-great-great grandfather was a stone cutter, my great-great grandfather was a stone cutter and my great grandfather was a stone cutter. So I feel that this is in my genes. I feel a great amount of pride that I'm doing something that goes back to ancient times.
Were you aware when you started stonecutting that this was part of your ancestry?
No, I was not. It wasn't till my mother and I were presented with a family tree that I learned it went back a long, long time.
Did they do the same kind of stone cutting?
They didn't do monuments, my great, great, great grandfather worked cutting stone for the canals from 1779 to 1804.
That's in Denmark?
Yes, the Isle of Fyn, in the city of Odense. My great, great grandfather was described as a stenklover, which is a stone splitter. My great grandfather cut stone for building work. I am described as a stenhugger. That covers building and memorial work.
How did you get involved in sculpture work?
I saw the sculpture work done on memorials and that raised my interest. I knew I was going to figure it out one way or another. My opportunity came when a sculptor rented my shop to sculpt some busts to go to the Upper Peninsula. I saw this as my chance to see how this was done from beginning to end.
The sculptor asked me if I wanted to try sculpting and he showed me the basic way to rough in the bust with the drill and the saw. That was how I got the feel of what it was about and the I just watched. That was my lesson in sculpture.
How long have you been sculpting?
From 1988 till now. I sculpt when I have time aside from my monument work.
Have you become more "serious" about sculpting in recent years?
Since I became a member of the Oak Park Art League. The League has caused me to raise my own level, to raise my "A" game, because there are some fantastic artists at the League.
I understand you are an artist member there. How long have you been involved with the Art League?
I went to the Art League for classes in the 80's, it wasn't till a few years ago when I started looking for an Art League to join. I joined Oak Park because I took some classes there. It felt like the neighborhood where I grew up. Oak Park has a great history. It was the best fit for me. The first show I entered I won first place with my mermaid piece.
You are on the Board of Directors at OPAL, how did you get involved?
I saw the call for board members on e-mails and newsletters. I really wasn't sure at the time the difference between the board and committees. On the board application I expressed interest in the membership committee.
Do you have a favorite artist? Are you a big fan of the old school sculptors like Michelangelo or the more modern sculptors?
I would have to say I'm more of an "old school" figurative type of sculptor. I do check out other sculptors but I work in my own style. I do like Brancusi's "The Kiss". There is a great simplicity. The work i see in the cemeteries make me go "wow." There are some great unknowns that work in the quarries.
Do you have a favorite cemetery to see sculpture?
I would recommend Graceland at Irving and Clark, and also Forest Home cemetery in Forest Park.
You have artists in your family. I understand all of you come together as a group and paint.
Yes, we still do that. My mom, sister and a couple of cousins get together and set up a still life, we all paint the same thing but from different perspectives. We call it Paint Club.
That's a great way to keep your family together.
Yes, it is quality time.
Where do you get your materials?
I like to save money and limestone is economical. Sometimes I can ask for the stone from a demolition of a building, sculpture supplies for sale on Craigslist and estate sales.
Where do you exhibit?
I've been in the Fine Arts Building, the Woman Made Gallery, Northwest Cultural Center, Bloomingdale Historical Center and OPAL.
What are your artistic goals?
That when I retire from making monuments I have my own studio to carve stone, enter shows and sell my work. Simple goals.
Do you have a website?
I do have a website for my monument business. www.strandtmonuments.com I do have some artwork on my website