On craft and craftsmanship

In the studio with Landon Crowell

By Eva Buttacavoli

Photo: Landon Crowell, Inertia in Light of a Likely Disaster, 2011. Wood, paint and hose clamps

There’s this spatial thing about sculptors. The good ones imbue their work with this particular physicality that sort of taunts, teases, seduces us into relating our bodies to it. You walk around it. You lean way back to look up at it. You look it in the eye. You bend over to look down or into it. Like us, it has planes, mass, volume and void. Like us, by the mere action of standing in our space, gets in our space. This is especially true when it’s made from such tactile and fragrant materials as marble, steel, bronze, wood, tar or wax. I’ll never forget being suddenly conscious of my own breathing while standing this close to Michelangelo’s Pieta or the weightiness of the air between my shoulders and the looming, leaning steel of Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc. Sculpture to me is closer to dance – or the slam in the chest of opera in the front row – than it is to any other art form. 

Artist Landon Crowell is one of those physical sculptors. Himself: athletic, outdoorsy and attuned to the land and his imprint in it. His materials: raw plywood, stripped maple, tar, beeswax and metal. His subject: landscapes, maps and totems.

Currently, Crowell is the sculpture and gallery technician at Wright State University. He grew up in Dayton and received a track and field scholarship to attend the University of Akron, where he spent four years studying metalsmithing before he completed his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in sculpture at Wright State University. He spent over 17 years traveling and living in Arizona, New Mexico and Vermont, honing his technical skills and exploring the art-making process. During his travels he has had the opportunity to studio assist noted American artists Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, among others. He has exhibited nationally, curated several exhibitions and is published in “Metalwork Survey #3” by LaPlantz studio, Bayside, Calif.

I’ve been following Crowell’s work for a few years now, admiring his clean, spare, metal and wood sculptural floor and wall pieces at WSU, Rosewood, DVAC and in artist-collaborative pop-up shows in the area. Through his connection as a mentor to several really great sculpture students coming out of WSU lately, I began to notice just how pristine his craftsmanship is and how he is instilling this ethic to these students. And we all just have to stop and applaud that. I met him in his studio at WSU one warm, breezy afternoon where we spent a few hours talking about beeswax, Sean Scully, his early interest in endurance performance art and the difference between the landscapes of New Mexico and west Texas. Afterwards, we drove downtown to what he calls his “refrigerated” (better for the beeswax) studio inside Peter Benkendorf’s “Collaboratory” space in an empty storefront on the corner of Second and Ludlow Streets.

How many years have you been working as an artist?

I’ve been struggling for 24. – Landon Crowell

What’s your typical day?

I’m usually in the WSU studio, along with fellow sculptors, Associate Professor Stefan Chinov and Assistant Professor John James Long, starting at 8 a.m. I stay after classes, from about 5 to about 10 p.m. to work a little, stock a little. – LC

Favorite material to work with?

Depends. Metal is my favorite. But I like plywood just as well. – LC

Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?

Always music. – LC

How do you choose what to make? Where do you seek inspiration?

I really choose by practicality, by material I have on hand, what I’ve looked at recently. It’s all connected to the land though; it’s all connected to my connection to the landscape, particularly New Mexico. – LC

Favorite contemporary artist?

Sean Scully, Matthew Barney, Rebecca Horn, Martin Puryear. – LC

What do you collect?

Mostly kitsch. I have this big collection of stuff with the Virgin of Guadalupe on it. – LC

There is a trend with flashy, room-sized sculptural installation – this summer’s 35-ton “Sugar Sphinx” (A Subtlety, 2014) by Kara Walker and last year’s Rain Room, 2013 by Random International. Is traditional sculpture making dead?

I have a problem when contemporary sculpture is all about the idea and not about execution. I can’t get past bad welds or joints. Those sorts of works are often created by a production team – maybe even commercially cast – you’ve got to get your hands in there … and keep a relationship with the material. – LC

What’s your next career goal?

Santa Fe.

If you could have only one work of art in your life, what would it be?

My grandmother, who just turned 94, made me the most amazing contemporary-design quilt. She knows me well enough to know exactly what I would love. If I could only have one piece of art for the rest of my life, it would be that quilt.

Landon Crowell’s work can be seen April 12-May 8, 2015 in a solo exhibition at Rosewood Arts Centre, 2655 Olson Dr. in Kettering. For more information, please visit landoncrowellart.com.

A Dayton transplant from Austin, TX, via Miami, Florida and Brooklyn, New York, Eva is Executive Director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center. A curator and arts administrator for over 23 years, she previously served as the first executive director of FilmDayton; the curator/ director of exhibitions and education at the Austin Museum of Art and the director of education at the Miami Art Museum. You can reach her at EvaButtacavoli@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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