Approximately 55 ceramic and bronze works spanning the career of sculptor Stephen De Staebler (1933–2011) will be installed in the American art galleries at the de Young Museum from Jan. 14 to April 22.
“Matter + Spirit: The Sculpture of Stephen De Staebler” and its accompanying monograph commemorate the life and work of the renowned Bay Area artist, who died earlier this year in his Berkeley home.
For more than 50 years, De Staebler created figurative sculptures from clay. Drawing inspiration from childhood experiences with nature, a transformative adolescent encounter with human mortality, and adult studies in the history of art and religion, he explored and extended a tradition of human representation that includes the religious monuments of ancient Egypt, the Renaissance humanism of Michelangelo’s finished and unfinished figures, and the modern existentialism embodied in the works of Alberto Giacometti.
De Staebler’s sculptures are individual acts of faith — and doubt — shaped by a spiritual seeker and questioning skeptic who is working to reconcile his intellect and experience with his emotions and beliefs.
As he observed, the human figure, “is obviously the most loaded of all forms because we live in one. The figure obsesses not just artists, but human beings. It’s our prison. It’s what gives us life and also gives us death.”
Born in Saint Louis, Mo., in 1922, De Staebler studied religion at Princeton University and fine art at the University of California, Berkeley. An important contributor to the evolution of the California Clay and Bay Area Figurative movements, and a key figure who helped to sustain the relevance of figurative sculpture in the post-World War II period, De Staebler was an influential teacher at San Francisco State University and the San Francisco Art Institute.
His work resides in numerous museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
“Matter + Spirit: Stephen De Staebler,” is a timely tribute to a pioneering artist and his enduring work. Produced in collaboration with the artist and drawing upon the extensive archives of his estate, this authoritative volume is published on the occasion of the exhibition at the de Young Museum.
Lavishly illustrated with artworks and archival materials, many of them never before published, it traces De Staebler’s prolific career from his early anthropomorphic landscape sculptures, through his well-known standing figure columns and bronze angels, to late assemblage pieces created from fragments of earlier works in the artist’s “boneyard.”
Offering an unprecedented glimpse into the sculptor’s studio and working process, this catalogue is replete with new scholarship and fascinating discoveries.
Illuminating the significance of De Staebler’s practice as never before, a comprehensive essay by exhibition curator Timothy Anglin Burgard provides in-depth analysis of the artist’s entire career, highlighting persistent themes within major sculptures.
Poet and scholar Rick Newby sketches a biographical portrait of the sculptor, documenting how De Staebler’s life was remarkably reflected in his art.
Art historian Dore Ashton offers a moving tribute to the artist she met in the 1970s and with whom she remained a lifelong friend.
“Matter + Spirit: The Sculpture of Stephen De Staebler,” has been organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Lead Sponsors are Lorna Meyer Calas and Dennis Calas. Sponsors are Dolby Chadwick Gallery, Beverly and Peter Lipman, Dorothy Saxe, and David and Roxanne Soward. Additional support has been provided by Lisa and Patrick Denzer. The catalogue is published with the assistance of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment for Publications.
The exhibit is being held at the de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, from Jan.14 to April 22. Museum hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.
For information about ticket prices contact the de Young Museum at deyoungmuseum.org or call 415-750-3600.