Art Mapping

By Jenny Zeller


Chicago artist, educator, and 2002 Artist in Residence Jerry Bleem transforms everyday discarded materials and reinvents them.

Made from thousands of staples, ‘Untitled’ comes from a series of sculptures informed and inspired by edited plant gestures – close looks at buds, leaves, stems, and how the parts fit together. The original form was stapled out of waxed cardboard and cast. The process changed the cardboard into bronze but retained the original steel staples. Bleem appreciates how the humble and often overlooked material of staples, an analogy to some people’s approach to land, was monumentalized in the casting process. You can find this sculpture on the backside of the Visitor Center just outside of Isaac’s Café.

“I have so many wonderful memories of my time there. The opportunity to live and work in that beautiful setting was such a joy. Having been raised on a farm in southern Illinois, the land, particularly the plants of the land, has always been important to me.

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One of the experiments I was doing at Bernheim used insects as marks for pattern making. That’s when the grounds people and I were acquainted. Once they knew I was collecting Japanese beetles, they’d let me know about the latest infestation. I was able to acquire my bugs and help the Bernheim team with their work. Bernheim talks about connecting people with nature, and that was our connection, Japanese beetles!”

Bleem has taught in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 2000. He has received five individual artist fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council, an Arts Midwest/NEA Regional Visual Arts Fellowship. He has attended numerous residencies in addition to his Bernheim experience in 2002. Bleem is currently working on a series called Oil Products, using plastic bags as a crochet medium to create caricatured plant forms that configure into a large installation piece.

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