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Life & Work with Deb Zeller

Today we’d like to introduce you to Deb Zeller.

Hi Deb, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I have been an artist all my life. For many years art was in the background as I navigated an Engineering career and spent time overseas. When bronze sculpture became a strong force in my life, I realized that becoming more familiar with the human form from a structural standpoint was gong to be very important. I joined a local figure study group that met every week to work from live models. Eventually, I was asked to take over the group and keep it alive. I leased a studio in the North Loop for several years before moving the group, Minnesota Figure Study Collaborative, to its new home at Zeller Studio on Mainstreet, Hopkins, MN.

The group is a community of artists that work together, learn from each other and challenge each other.

Learning, constant practice and good feedback are essential to improving one’s art. This journey has led me to the wonderful commission of a life-size bronze sculpture for Land O’Lakes 100 year anniversary. It was specified that the sculpture would consist of a grandfather walking hand-in-hand with a grandchild. My father was a dairy farmer and I was his little farm hand growing up, so I asked if I could sculpt my father as the grandfather. The granddaughter was derived from my spirit, several of my great nieces and a neighbor girl who was exactly the right age. The story of making the sculpture:

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Art is very fulfilling, but of course, there are struggles. Interpreting a client’s vision can be challenging, but so rewarding once it comes together.

Probably the biggest obstacle/challenge my art career has experienced was loosing my Norhtloop studio lease. I had just 60 days to find a place, move out and keep a group of over 100 artists (about 25 regulars) together. I had a lot of luck finding my new location and a lot of help from my artist group, cleaning up the place and moving. Today, not only do we have a working studio, we have a Gallery that features Minnesota artists.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I own, manage and participate in an art collaborative that works weekly from live models. I own and manage a Gallery that features Minnesota artists.

I create two dimensional work in oil, watercolor, acrylic, encaustics, and charcoal. I create three dimensional work in clay, bronze and stone.

I have four bronze sculptures that I am particularly proud of. “Rooted in Tomorrow” is the Land O’Lakes 100 year commission. “Goddess of the Grapes” was originally commissioned for a winery in Napa and now there are three “sisters” installed at various locations, including in front of my studio. The Police Memorial in Hutchinson, MN depicts the ever vigil 24 hour dedication of the police force with a bronze sculpture that casts a shadow and an SST portal that casts a light silhouette of the officer. “The Plunge” was my very first life-size bronze sculpture, and a casting of it resides permanently in a 5 acre sculpture park in Altona, Canada.

Portraits from life set me apart from many artists. Not only do I run a live portrait session for other artists every Saturday morning, I create charcoal portraits for the public. I primarily do this at Parley Lake Winery in Waconia, MN.

This web connection says I have created over 1,000 portraits there, but the number is actually 2128 as of today…yes, I keep track of every one, photographing my “model” with the portrait before giving it to them. I also traveled to Cuba with Plein Air Painters Magazine and created over 50 charcoal and watercolor portraits on the streets of Havana. One in particular, Fidel (not Castro), who I drew on my last day in Cuba, will live in my memory forever. Normally, Fidel wants nothing to do with tourists. But he had heard so much about me from the other people that I had drawn and painted, he set up a meeting with me. He stubbornly held his cigar in his mouth the entire time I drew him. Normally, that would make a person’s lips quiver and they wouldn’t be able to continue the duration of a live drawing.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
Networking is critical to growth. You are never too old to participate in a community of people who have similar talents and goals.

When I first began in the corporate world, I was fortunate to have a CEO as a mentor. Once I found my place, I mentored many female engineers.

As an artist, finding a cooperative group is essential to growth and fulfillment. During the pandemic, I had a small group of 4 people who stayed together. Each week, one of us would take responsibility for challenging and teaching the other three something new. It was an incredible boost to the quality of my work.

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