Sculpture can bring corporate mission to life
By Elizabeth Geldermann, of SBT
David Wanner is blessed with the ability to bring the mission of a company, a hospital or an organization to life in a way only an artist can.
Wanner Sculpture Studio has produced religious and secular bronze, wooden and stone-carved sculptures for more than 30 years.
In 1999, the business grew beyond the confines of Wanner’s garage. David and his son Jordan moved the business from David’s home in Hartland to a full-service studio at 5828 N. 97th St. in Milwaukee.
The larger, more professional space allows for a consultation room, storage facility, foundry and workspace for design and modeling.
Wanner is currently finishing a 20- by 30-foot addition to allow even more work, storage and foundry space.
The studio now completes an average of 15 projects per year, but as it continues to grow in square feet and in reputation, Wanner has no plans to grow in terms of people.
"I don’t want to become an employer and lose autonomy within the business," Wanner said.
Wanner runs his business mainly through architects and consultants. David and Jordan said their work is 60% religious, creating baptismal fonts and statues mainly for churches and hospitals.
Wanner’s secular work is mostly corporate or for private collections. The prices of Wanner sculptures range from $500 to $200,000, depending on size and number of figures to be sculpted.
"I am interested in more corporate work," said David. "The themes are nice, broad and interesting. … The human figure is endlessly interesting."
Most of Wanner’s work has been shipped out of state, often to churches in the western suburbs of Chicago recently, according to Jordan.
In 2002, David completed a multiple sculpture of a group of 11 life-sized children for the headquarters of American Family Insurance in Madison.
He completed other sculptures for The City of Milwaukee Fire Safety Academy, St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Milwaukee and St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay.
"The sculpture has been received very warmly by employees," said American Family spokesman Kenneth Muth. "It is a great and fitting addition to our campus in Madison."
Wanner is designing a sculpture for the garden of St. John the Evangelist Cathedral, 802 N. Jackson St. in Milwaukee. David’s life-sized bronze sculpture of Pope John XXIII has been on display inside the cathedral since 2002.
David said the new, larger-than-life, bronze sculpture of Christ washing a woman’s feet will be visible through the cathedral gates on Jackson Street and through the glass atrium on Van Buren Street.
"We are calling it Mandato, meaning mandate," said David. "If you love God, take care of your neighbor; prove yourself as a Christian."
The theme will reflect the parish’s mission to serve the poor and the services St. John’s provides, according to the Rev. Carl Last, who is working on the design with Wanner.
St. John’s offers a cathedral center for homeless women and children, the Open Door Café meal program for the homeless and the St. Vincent DePaul Society, provider of emergency help.
"It is a quiet green space in the middle of a busy downtown," Last said. "(The figures) will be purposely put there to help people reflect, whether they walk by or are in the garden."
David said the subject of the sculpture is a general interpretation of the Biblical story of Christ washing the Apostles’ feet.
Jordan said such a sculpture generally takes a year to finish after the design is approved.
The figures are first sculpted with clay, then made into a wax mold and cast in bronze. According to Jordan, it takes about three months to cast the bronze and add detail.
The father-and-son team make up one of the few sculpture studios in the Midwest that operate with an on-site foundry to produce metal castings.
"It is unusual," said Mike Nolte of Vanguard Sculpture Services, Ltd., Milwaukee "We have hundreds of clients in the Midwest, and of all of our clients, Wanner is one of two that have their own foundry."
Nolte said he has worked with Wanner in the past as a technical reference when David built his foundry, and he casts for Wanner when a sculpture exceeds the size limit of his foundry.
"Artists are the eyes and hire us to be the hands," said Nolte. "Some artists, like David, feel the need to be in control when processing the creation of three-dimensional form."
As Wanner continues to grow with commissioned projects outside of Milwaukee, David said he would like to have more of a presence within the city limits.
"I would like to do something for the Milwaukee Rep or for the Ballet," said David. "We’ll see."