Sara Balbin – Dragonfly Studio, Drummond, WI » Art Gallery

Family Totem on Hart Lake

In late October 2020, with the assistance of an energetic crew and encouragement and trust of a supportive patron, I was happy to install a multi-image commissioned piece in a beautiful setting overlooking a lake home in Bayfield County.  The initial concept for this allegorical sculpture, titled “Family Totem on Hart Lake”, began over four years ago. What a great way to celebrate the beauty of this season, working over several glorious warm, colorful, fall days to complete this special sculpture.

As is customary in my creative world, commissioned pieces begin with a preliminary conversation between the patron and artist. Over time, as that dialogue continues, the conceptual foundation is formalized upon which to guide the creative journey. Preliminary sketches are developed to capture the sculpture’s theme. As concept details are firmed up, more detailed drawings are created better defining the component details.  After the design elements were fully developed, several small paper models were also created to further visualize the overall concept. For this concept, full size paper templates were created as size reference and for general layout use.

Then the fun began, as each of the components are moved through the physical fabrication process.  Because of the size and projected weight, the centerpiece, a ten-foot tall by ten-foot wide three-dimensional oak tree, was cut and assembled from my design drawing using a local fabrication partner. In addition, several of the larger individual components were CNC plasma cut as well from line drawings that I had created.  All of the smaller components, animals, oak leaves, base plates were drawn out and hand cut by me at my home Dragonfly Studio.  From there, husband and artist assistant Gary and I, proceeded to apply heat and mechanical advantage to wrestle the steel into the three-dimensional finished pieces.  The entire process was time consuming, enjoyable, challenging and exhilarating as the labor-intensive fabrication process brought the creative vision on paper to on the ground completion.  The final step that happened this past week was transportation and installation on one of the most beautiful sculpture foundations on a lovely landscaped hillside that I have ever worked with.


Throughout the process, my trusting patron and I worked closely to dial in the detailed particulars of the tree, animals and children represented in “Family Totem on Hart Lake”.  Explaining the sculpture title, she offered this researched definition of Totem: “A natural object or animal that is believed by a particular society to have spiritual significance and that is adopted by it as an emblem.” As well as, “A person or thing regarded as being symbolic or representative of a particular quality or concept”.  And finally, “A totem (Ojibwe doodem) is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe”.  In the words of my patron, “Our Family Totem on Hart Lake is spiritual and symbolic of our family!”   As the artist, I feel the title is most appropriate for a personal story telling piece that will bring enjoyment from this time forward to family and friends alike.

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