Making things that Matter

Alumni carves out a career as an artist

By Rob O'Connor '95
Managing Editor

When she was in high school, Robyn Hutcheson Horn '73 played guitar and sang in The Opposite Sex, an all-girl rock band. But when she came to Hendrix, she didn't make the cut for the school choir.

The rock world's loss was the art world's gain when Horn set aside her axe for a chainsaw and chose to hone her chops as an artist.

[Note: Horn did become a member of the Hendrix Choir, under the direction of Robert McGill, during her junior and senior years.]

Her work can now be found in fine art galleries and at museums, including the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

Crystal Bridges' collection features Already Set in Motion, a 10-foot tall sculpture carved from redwood and dyed black.

"It's quite a thrill to be part of the collection," says Horn, who was present when the work was installed, by industrial crane, on the grounds outside of the museum. The installation included a few nerve-wracking moments, as the sculpture hung suspended in the air high above the sloped grounds of the museum.

For the sculpture, Horn used a forklift, an anniversary present from her husband John, as a scaffold and fired up her 47-inch bar Stihl chain saw.

"It's hard to be spontaneous with a chain saw ... It's direct and aggressive," Horn says, adding that the tool lends itself to a certain "destructive choreography."

The log she used was found lying in a valley in northern California after it had been blown over in a storm 40 years earlier. From a single log, she made two sculptures. One was shown at the Arkansas Arts Center's Delta Exhibition. The second piece became Already Set in Motion.

Both works are part of her recent Slipping Stone series. They resemble stacked stones on the verge of collapse. But looks are deceiving. Each sculpture is actually a solid piece carved to look like several pieces put together.

Drawn to Hendrix

A Fort Smith native, Horn was first exposed to art through her mother, Dede Hutcheson, a painter.

"Mom was always doing art," says Horn, whose sister Karen Hutcheson '78 is also a painter. The trio recently had a show together at the Center for Art and Education in Van Buren.

Becoming an art major at Hendrix was "the easiest way to graduate," Horn reasoned at the time.

In her undergraduate days, the art program was a far cry from today.

"It was fairly minimal at the time. There were so many things I didn't learn then. I envy the students working in the art department now," she said, praising the College's current art facilities and faculty.

After graduating from Hendrix, Horn worked at Prestige Composition, a Little Rock, Ark., typesetting house, setting type for advertising agencies and making deliveries in an old Volkswagen. She later worked as chief photographer for the State Parks and Tourism Department.

Early Material

Since 1984, Horn has focused primarily on wood sculpture. She had tried metal but found it too heavy and dirty to work with. Rather than swinging a hammer and hitting an anvil, Horn decided she'd rather exert her energies swinging a tennis racquet and hitting a tennis ball.

Her interest in wood began when she shared a shop space with her husband John, a retired printer and avid collector of vintage printing presses, and his brother Sam, a woodworker.

"Sam handed me the tool and said, ‘You want to try it?' and that's how it started," she remembers.

Horn learned to turn wood at the Arrowmont School in Gatlinburg, Tenn. She started on a lathe but now uses mostly band saws and hand tools to carve.

"It's a subtractive process," she says to differentiate it from an "additive" process like pottery. "Removing material seems to appeal to me."

Most of Horn's artistic influences are sculptural, including the Japanese aesthetic of Isamu Noguchi and the shapes of English sculptor Barbara Hepworth, a contemporary of Henry Moore.

More Monumental

For several years, Horn's wood sculptures were smaller in scale.

After working with David Nash, an English sculptor who lives in Wales, she was inspired to make something "more monumental."

"Scale changes how sculpture is perceived," she says.

Horn discovered wood at the right time in the art world, as gallery exhibitions and private collectors were eager for original work using wood.

"It was a perfect storm for me and my career," says Horn. "It was totally unexpected ... I was just making things."

Not only is Horn an artist, she is a passionate advocate for the arts.

Among her many activities, she serves on the collection committee for the Arkansas Arts Center.

"The Arkansas Arts Center does a really good job of bringing good art to the state," says Horn. "Their collection is impressive and educational, and the museum school does a very good job of developing artists and skills."

She is also active on the board of the Thea Foundation, supporting founder Paul Leopoulos's mission to get arts back in schools and improve school performance by engaging young students in art.

"People think that art is just something fun, a hobby," she says. "I think it's much more."

The Horns are also active supporters of the Penland School of Crafts, a craft school in western North Carolina that teaches traditional art forms, including blacksmithing, bookbinding, and pottery. They teach workshops in wood sculpture and letterpress printing, among other things.

A New Medium

More recently, Horn's artistic attention has turned toward painting.

"It's nice to push yourself with something that you didn't want to do," she says.

Among the painters Horn admires are Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Marcel DuChamp, whose painting "Nude Descending a Staircase" was a major influence for the Slipping Stone series.

In her most recent series of multidimensional paintings on paper and wood panels, Horn incorporates wire and rust to develop lines and create shadows.

While her work with wood was a slow progression through several series, Horn feels she progressed much faster with painting because she had already "developed an aesthetic."

"When I looked back, I was surprised at how much my painting relates to my sculpture," she says. "That made me feel like I was on the right track."

As her interests evolve and are more painting related, she looks forward to new series and new challenges.

"When you have an artist's mentality, making things is what you do," she says. "It's the way you think ... I would be absolutely lost if I couldn't make things."

For more information on Robyn Horn, visit www.robynhorn.com.