Stephen De Staebler

UnnamedStephen De Staebler (American,1933–-2011), Single Winged Figure on Plinth, 2010, Bronze, Acquired with funds provided by the Humana Foundation for American Art, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, 2012.016

 

ABOUT THE ARTWORK

 

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Who made it?

Stephen De Staebler was an internationally celebrated American sculptor known for his fragmented figural sculptures created from bronze and clay. Through his sculptures, De Staebler explored the human experience in all of its complex glory. His figures are frozen in an endless cycle of teetering on the verge of collapse while triumphantly rising from the rubble of their existence—an effect magnified by the inherent qualities of his materials. The struggles within his sculptures mirror the reality and experience of humans throughout history.

Reflecting on the human body as a source of endless inspiration, De Staebler said, "The human figure is 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 gives us death."


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What's going on in this work?

In this sculpture, a fragmented human form balances on one leg and reaches toward the sky. A smooth torso strains outward as if inhaling deeply while a rough-hewn chunk of bronze explodes from one of the shoulders. The entire form seems to defy gravity while simultaneously being firmly grounded to the earth.

All of De Staebler’s artworks juxtapose the frailty and transience of individual lives against the remarkable resilience of humankind. Their forms are rooted in the history of Western sculpture, memorial steles, and architectural friezes. Classical sculpture’s defiance of absolute decay became De Staebler’s metaphor for humankind’s yearning to connect with eternity. This particular sculpture was fabricated in the artist’s last year and is perhaps De Staebler’s elegy to the time he passed on earth.


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Take a closer look.

Click on the full image of Single Winged Figure on Plinth above to see a larger version of the work. Look closely at the sculpture and use these questions to guide your looking. Share your thoughts with your family at home, with a friend through a virtual conversation, or with us in a response to this email.  

  • What is this figure doing? What do you see that makes you say that? Take a moment to pose your body like this; how does it make you feel?
  • Last week we featured Deborah Butterfield's Tracery (take a look here) which is located not too far from De Staebler's Single Winged Figure on Plinth in The Charles B. Hayes Family Sculpture Park. Why do you think De Staebler's and Butterfield's works are placed outside rather than in the Museum? How does it change how we think about them? 

Image credits:
Stephen De Staebler (American,1933–-2011), Single Winged Figure on Plinth, 2010, Bronze, Acquired with funds provided by the Humana Foundation for American Art, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, 2012.016 | Photograph of Stephen De Staebler | Two detailed views of Single Winged Figure on Plinth in a circular format, progressively zooming in on the sculpture. | Photographs of Steve Krojniewsk and Single Winged Figure on Plinth collaged into the same image.