By BETH ALTENA
Fans of Rockford sculptor Steve Anderson may not know him by face or in person, but people visiting Rockford can hardly not see the results of his work. Perhaps most visible are the fish at the Rockford dam. Large, abstract, gleaming and clean of line, they undoubtably add to the charm of our riverfront setting.
Likewise, the Rockford ram at North Rockford Middle School is striking and a symbol of school pride and east of town on Ten Mile Road a large rose at the entrance of the Villas of Rosewood. Now, visitors the new Tanger Mall opening at 84th Street at the U.S.131 exit will see his most recent efforts, works that are the result of 40 years of working metals of all kinds. Anderson was commissioned to create a trio of sails representing an abstract sailboat, as well as a grouping of seagulls for the mall. The sails are now installed on cement pads at the new shopping venue and will grace the facility for the forseeable future.
Stainless steel, the sculptures are nearly impervious to wear, making the medium Anderson’s favorite in which to work. Like the fish at the dam and the ram at NRMS, the sculptures will never rust and are nearly indestructible, unlike other metals, like copper and brass, which can rust or change colors.
Anderson’s efforts give the surface of the sails a unique finish, an optical illusion which makes the metal appear to have depth. Eerily, the finish gives the hard metal a look of fluidity, a finish Anderson achieved by buffing the metal multiple times in different directions. The trio represent a sailboat’s mainsail, jibsail and spinnaker sail. Anderson knows sails well, having sailed 30 years ago and again now after purchasing a catamaran a few months ago.
“I already know how wind blows in the sails,” he said of his efforts to duplicate the effect on stainless steel. “I love working in stainless steel. It’s a lot more work but when its one it’s impervious to anything. It’s the lowest maintenance.”
Anderson said he doesn’t always work in stainless steel, but enjoys the effects you can achieve with it. The level of steel he uses is the most expensive, 304 is standard stainless steel, he uses 316 L stainless steel. “This is what they use in the cooking industry. L is high in chromium.”
The strength of the metal that makes it so lasting also makes it hard to work with and Anderson’s hands show the results of a lifetime in toil with the different metals he works. Thick callouses run down each of the fingers on both hands.
“People tell me to put lotion on my hands to keep them soft, but for a sculptor, callouses are good. I couldn’t do what I do with soft hands.” He said each of the three sails weigh 300 to 400 pounds. He achieved the illusion of depth by buffing deeply in four different directions, which actually bends the metal.
He said anyone who has seen his sculptures will be surprised how different they look at night, especially when lit from underneath. An example of this is the Cedar Springs Fire Hawk he created. That sculpture represents not only the school mascot redhawk, but also a beloved late coach. Commissioned by the man’s wife, the sculpture features green eyes and wears a class ring just like the late coach’s.
The Tanger Mall people also asked Anderson to create a trio of seagulls that have since been installed for public viewing at the mall. With a grand opening of Friday, July 31, fans of Anderson’s work can see the sculptures during the grand opening then or later.
Anderson went to school for his art, earning a Bachelor of Science in Art and a minor in business. His work has evolved over the years and his sculptures are distinct and remarkable, often featuring animals or nature themes. He has been earning his living in the field since 1975, selling at multiple shows along with help of his sons Troy, a teacher at North Rockford Middle School, (who was instrumental in having Anderson create the NRMS ram at a deep discount), Chad, a full-time sculptor. Another son, Cory, is a Lake County Sheriff in Florida.
Anderson often works in brass and copper for much of his work, but for art that is exposed to the public or outdoors prefers the impervious nature of the stainless steel. “You can’t hurt it. You could probably go at it with a hammer and it would hurt you more than it would hurt it.” Another outdoor piece in the area is a 12 foot cross for a church in Wyoming.
Oddly, Anderson mostly doesn’t know where his works end up. Whether selling at trade shows or by commission, the pieces usually go from him to a destination unknown. He works with interior decorators who have clients and need a particular piece. The NRMS ram is a perfect example.
Troy asked his dad if he could create something for the front of the school at cost to compliment a beautification project by local Girl Scouts. The blazing orange glass eyes match the school color.
“If I ever got caught up I’d love to talk to Dan Zang [Rockford High School Principal] and create two rams butting heads on tall pillars.” He envisions them over the entrance to the high school football field so visitors to games would pass under them as they enter. Of course, they would be stainless steel to last forever. “The only other metal that lasts forever is solid gold, and I don’t think people would go for that.”