THE BONEMAN

 GENDRON JENSEN— Biography

INFANCY

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 on Suffering.

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 soul.

"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 translucent porcelain."

    -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

In 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 Seepod.
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, 1987.

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 subjected."

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 whale.

"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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For information about making a tax-deductible contribution towards the
documentary production of
The Boneman, please contact Farmhouse Films

If you are interested in purchasing artwork by the artist, visit Gendron Jensen

To read more about Gendron in Smithsonian Magazine, visit The Beauty of Bare Bones

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