GENDRON JENSEN— Biography
Gendron Lloyd Jensen was born on December 15, 1939
in River Falls, Wisconsin. He was the second of nine children born to Lloyd
Winfred Jensen, a plumber by trade, and Helen Hyacinth Gendron.
Due to job opportunities, the family moved several
times during what was a difficult childhood for young Gendron.
"I was a sickly boy, who suffered from asthma until
age 7. One day, during a family vacation, while exploring the sandy spit of
a shoreline, the bleached relic of a red squirrel skull awaited me in the reeds.
I gasped, opening my lungs unto Nature's wonderment and my health was
miraculously restored. I was content to be alone, spending many hours of my
childhood alone, exploring the swamps and forests surrounding our rural home. I
would spend hours lost over vast worlds of mossy,
miniature forests on rocks and logs."
Undiagnosed dyslexia made school very difficult for
Gendron, causing great amounts of stress. Perhaps this is what compelled him to
find solace in the Natural world around and in the fertile world within.
CONFUSION & DISCOVERY
At the age of 19 Gendron entered a monastic novitiate in Wisconsin
then, paradoxically, joined the U.S. Navy at 21. After only a few months,
he was discharged as a result of an emotional breakdown.
Upon his return home to Minnesota, he was involuntarily committed by
the family doctor with parental consent, for fear that he would bring harm
to himself. He was instituted at Moose Lake State Hospital where he would
spend much of the next two years.
"The work detail which I had there at Moose Lake,
was in the laundry. During the darks of wintertide, our work began before dawn, and on one such morning,
I felt one of the many waves of uncontrollable panic come over me.
I rushed to the back door,
where the big dock was. Through the metal doors, I spied one of the most glorious sunrises which
I have ever been blessed with...
I had an inner life which served me well during that confinement. It was
piqued by Nature, though we were quite removed physically from her wonderment. I would relish
the advance of snowstorms, fleeing forth through the wire mesh thick glass, abandoned to the company
of dancing, cavorting snowflakes! I was one of their company. I heard and saw the Canada geese return
in springtime and would soar up to greet them, cheering them on to the boundless region of nesting
beyond the guns of my fellowmen."
During one of his releases from the sanitarium, in May of 1963, Gendron
attempted suicide. As a result, he was re-institutionalized until September
of that same year when he was enrolled in vocational rehab at the University
of Minnesota, Duluth. It was there that he submerged himself into art courses
and exhibits. The deep creative and spiritual impact was a rebirth for
the 24 year old Gendron Jensen.
After his studies, he returned to the Benedictine monastery to work
in the printshop. In his spare time, he began searching the fields and
forests around the monastery for tiny objects from Nature. During the long
hours and weekends which were left to his own design, Gendron wrestled
to reproduce his found objects with pencil and pen & ink.
"The cold rainy edge of winter had forced me indoors
for a few days, so I brooded over boxes of relics accumulated from lake,
forest, and field treks.
Late one evening, aching from hunching over those
boxes, I suddenly looked up, surprised beyond dusken light. Suppertime
had long passed by in the refectory and the thought of venturing to the
kitchen wearied me. Without undressing, I went to bed in the next room,
which had been monks' closet for floor-keeping equipment. I cannot forget
the eerie event which took place out of that night room. From my inner
eye, relics which I had long gathered and pondered, began, one by one, to move, float, drift from their
containers, upward into the still air. I grasped the bedposts, at the brink
of that vivid force, slowly losing orientation for gravity and dimension.
As the objects moved up around me, a din like the ocean began to fill my
ears; all the creaturely sounds swelling and flooding together. I tried
fixing my eyes upon one whirling relic after another. They swarmed, torrenting
below the floor, above the ceiling and beyond the walls of my small room.
The only recourse was to abide in the midst of this uncountable multitude.
A shadowless grayness of hush light which seemed to be sourced near or within my
own chest, bathed the orbiting throng.
The last thing I sensed before sleep's profound union,
a melding of where I left off and they began. It
caused me to fear because the usual relationship
between seer and seen, beholder and beheld, had been
removed. In the morning, my aching hands were still
fixed to the spooled bedposts."
By 1967, the awareness of art and Nature within himself has transcended
his being. From a technical standpoint, his confidence in the use of graphite
pencil as a medium of fine art is validated by repeated visits to the Chicago
Art Institute. He soonafter completed his first serious work, Inside Tillie,
and began work on The Series on Resurrection in Nature.
Upon its completion, Gendron went to meet John Lloyd Taylor and Tracy
Atkinson at the Museum in Milwaukee. They offered to show part of The Series
alongside an important exhibit, "Giacometti, The Complete Graphics," from
the collection of Herbert and Virginia Lust. Gendron chose not to exhibit,
as there was only room for part of The Series.
A year later, after returning home to live, he attained his first official
exhibit when the entire studies and final efforts of The Series on Resurrection
in Nature were shown at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.
Due to unbearable tension, Gendron left home for Winton, MN ,where he
exerted himself on studies for The Series on Once in Nature and his Treatise
Because of money problems he returned home to Grand Rapids again where
he tried to stay focused by working on the large primary study for the
pre-sanctified and primary studies for Treatise on The Sacred and The Profane.
Then, during an emotional whirlwind, Gendron jumped into the river and
again was hospitalized. Fortunately, his artwork quickly recaptured his
"I was insane once, and I do not want to be lost
in the terror of non- communication again.
Making images relieves some of this anguish."
THE BURNING YEARS
The following years were spent in near isolation on an abandoned mink
farm south of Grand Rapids. He labored feverishly during these productive
years with most of the works being drawn in series. They include The Pelvis
Series on into(1971), The Wildflower Series on Love, The Jawbone Series
on Trust, The Procession of the Lobotomies (1972),Series of the Physical
Fact of Death, The Series on Transfiguration, The Vertebrae Series on Celibacy
(1973), The Sacris Series (1974), The Black Bear Series on Human Aggression,
The Snail Series, The Wah Nee Kahn Series, The Ain Daht Series (1975),
The Series on Ambulation (1976), The Series on Feeding (1977) &
The Synovial Series (1978).
"His unique medium is pencil on
paper, of which he displays total mastery. The more one looks, the more one sees
deep, rare textures in the graphite constructions. All the gradations are there
from deep black to the most ephemeral grays, creating a visual effect similar to
-Herbert Lust; author/art dealer/art historian
"Wrenched form their Natural context
and altered in scale, these bones and shells are transmuted.
Though tied to their origins in nature, they are curiously
self-sufficient, self-referential images. In that, they
become art, not just illustration."
-William Hegeman, Minneapolis Tribune
1977 Gendron collaborated with poet laureate Robert Bly on
This Body is Made of Camphor & Gopherwood.
"Robert Bly called me a 'forest
eccentric' in the blurb prepared for our collaboration. His wife remarked that
this was a compliment which he had only once before designated to a Scandinavian
woman who lived in the woods of Minnesota."
Robert Bly in The Boneman
In the early eighties, he set to work on Seepod, a
multi faceted project, which called for the construction of three interconnected
dome pods, representing cranial, thoracic, and pelvic sections of animals. The
pods ranged from thirty to sixty feet in diameter, and within each pod visitors
would find giant graphite images of nature's relics, reflecting the glories of
the creatures from the land, the water, and the air.
"Technology is gradually and
irreversibly taking mankind away from the Order of Nature
into self imposed environs. This realization gives impetus to my venture for
Art must challenge and compel, not merely entertain."
His new found wisdom is put to use at major
universities across the country through lectures focusing on art and Nature.
LOVE & STABILITY
In 1986, Gendron left Minnesota to reside in fellowship in Washington
D.C. While drawing a series derived of paleolithic and contemporary turtle
relics, Charles Potter of the Natural History's Division of Mammals took
Jensen to see some whale bones. Their magnanimity profoundly affected Gendron
and as a result, he would devote many years to come, drawing
the bones of these majestic and endangered creatures. His
turtle series, Mikinaak
(Ojibwa phonetic for turtle), was presented at the Museum of Natural History
in Washington D.C and was favorably reviewed by art historian Rob Silberman
in "Art in America".
It was during this successful period that, through their drawings, Gendron
met artist Christine Taylor Patten. After a short, intense correspondence,
Gendron joined her in New Mexico, where they were married on August 15,
In 1988, Gendron completed The Tribunal; a study of coyote bones which
consists of nine drawings, sized seven by four feet.
"Coyotes scavenge and prey. They fit within nature's
grand fabric of necessity and rightness. With the bony leavings of this
noble creature, I resolved to draw forth a huge series which could possibly
express something other than the bias and prejudice to which they are commonly
The Tribunal was followed by
Eagle's Nest Series, Wikondiwin (To Have
or to be Had), Isle Royale Series and numerous private commissions.
PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE
The nineties have primarily been consumed by a second collaboration
with the Smithsonian for which Gendron began studies on the behemoth blue
"On earth, blue whales are the
largest mammals ever. Under 10,000 are estimated in world
oceans, boding extinction. The balance of intuitive
creativity and reasoned science is direly
needful in awakening humanity to the plight of
these leviathans, with whom we merely share
existence. Images have power beyond words, to
evoke passion, understanding, and action."
From the bleached relic of a red squirrel skull at age seven to the
behemoth bones of the blue whale, Gendron Jensen has found his course in
life. Through his art and his vision of Nature, a symbiotic association
of serious significance has emerged. It is a relationship which unites
man and the nature that surrounds him. Its attributes are as archetypal
as life and death and more relevant in this age of environmental distress
than ever before. Gendron Jensen's spiritual realm teaches us about
our past, our present and our future.
"My great teacher, the Polish patriot, Tadeusz
Debski, urges me with dictum, 'Cowards are easily critical, but brave persons
are optimistic in the face of all adversity.' Animated by his heroic example, I
ardently move forward with utter confidence and commitment."
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To read more about Gendron in Smithsonian Magazine,
The Beauty of Bare Bones
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