Woodland tribes inspire sculptor Jud Hartmann’s work

Interior of the Jud Hartmann Gallery

At Judd Hartmann Gallery, the airy space not highlights artist Jud Hartmann’s sculptures and paintings as well the contemporary work by some local artists. PHOTO BY AMANAT KHULLAR

As a young boy, Jud Hartmann enjoyed painting and studying the history of Native American tribes of the Northeastern United States. Those passions are melded in the Blue Hill artist’s series of bronze sculptures called “The Woodland Tribes of the Northeast: The Iroquoians and the Algonkians.”

The sculptor, who has studios and galleries in Blue Hill and Grafton, Vt., says he began casting the pieces in 1983. Since then, the series has grown to more than 75 sculptures, some of which are on view in the Jud Hartmann Gallery in Blue Hill.

Hartmann’s lifelong interest in the Iroquois and Algonquian Indians sprang from the two tribes’ absence as subjects in contemporary art.

“I’ve always been fascinated with these groups,” says Hartmann. “It was as if I was born with it.”

Sculptor Jud Hartmann researches his subjects meticulously in order to accurately represent historic scenes such as this lively bronze of Native Americans paddling downstream. PHOTO BY AMANAT KHULLAR

Sculptor Jud Hartmann researches his subjects meticulously in order to accurately represent historic scenes.

The artist, who grew up in Bedford, N.Y., earned his bachelor’s degree in American history from Hobart College. It was years later, though, that he began sculpting on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Caribbean’s palm trees and pristine, turquoise waters inspired him to paint, but a lack of supplies led him to try his hand at wood-carving instead.

When striking the chisel with a mallet, Hartmann recalls something just clicked. He knew he had found the right direction for his life’s work.

“I was surprised by my response to it,” he remembered. “It was pretty dramatic.”

With no formal artistic training, Hartmann initially sculpted in wood before moving into stone and marble. Eventually, switching to bronze enabled him to make several editions of one piece and earn a living from his artwork.

The artist sculpts a clay piece before shipping it to a foundry in the York County town of Eliot. There, a rubber mold of the original is created before it is cast into bronze by the “lost wax.”

For his sculptures, Hartmann does extensive research using primarily 17th- and 18th-century accounts translated from French and Dutch. Concepts for his pieces spring from those long hours of study.

“Most people don’t even know how much material there is,” he said. “It’s inexhaustible!”

Hartmann rarely works with visual aids, which can make the process challenging at times. He aims for each of his subjects to have an authentic appearance, from their poses to the wrinkles on the face.

The sculptor creates anywhere from one to three pieces a year, each yielding 20 to 60 bronzes.

The Jud Hartmann Gallery on Blue Hill’s Main Street is as much about art as it is about educating the public about the Iroquois and Algonquians. Each sculpture is accompanied by an account of the people and events depicted in the life-size works.

Every so often he explores different subjects for a change of pace, such as the series of mythical creatures displayed in front of his desk.

“I never thought I would grow up to be an artist [painter]; it just didn’t grab me the way sculpting did,” he reflects, looking back on his odyssey. He considers himself fortunate to have discovered his passion at an early age and does not regret having never attended art school. “It’s not something you can learn. It’s something you’re born with.”

Amanat Khullar is a sports reporter for the Mount Desert Islander. She comes from New Delhi, the capital city of India and graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.