Trenton museum features François Guillemin retrospective

This is part of a series from Ilene Dube of The Artful Blogger.

Some artists never grow up. Thank goodness. With waxen whiskers, le Corbeau — Francois Guillemin – finds an outlet for mischief in his metal work, on view at Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum, through Nov. 4. The exhibit includes sculpture, furniture and lighting, decorative objects, and jewelry. He has always divided his time between functional objects, and pure art.

The work at Ellarslie dates back to the late 1970s, when Guillemin came to the East Coast to work at the J. Seward Johnson Jr. Atelier, then in Princeton. Among more recent work is a cherry armoire with quilted copper door panels, a light fixture named “Bayou Willow” that Guillemin describes with a French word for walking like a duck; and a cabinet of New Jersey spalted maple, bronze and steel legs and textured handmade glass panels named “Santa Fe.”

Among the sculpture is some of his mid-career work: “Icarus on a Holding Pattern,” a cast bronze hand with golden wings touching a cast bronze boot; “The Arrest,” a cast white opera-length lady’s glove holding back a wheel with golden wings at its hub; and “Paranoia,” another cast bronze boot, this time adorned with a sort of bouquet of ears made from his infant son.

“Did you say your son’s ear?”

“When Omar, our eldest, was a week old, I stuffed cotton in his ear, then put a paper cup around it and poured Jello in, then cast it in silver and used it as a hat pin,” says le Corbeau. “But I thought it would be nice to have a boot with a bunch of ears.”

Did anyone call DYFS? Guillemin laughs. “Omar’s still alive and still has his ear.”

About a decade into his career at the Johnson Atelier, Guillemin forged a canon and, curious to see it work during a Fourth of July celebration at the Atelier, fired it and watched the metal ball travel over a lake, through a forest, and into a neighbor’s bathroom. “The target was unintended,” says Guillemin, and you wonder if he doesn’t do these things just to get a story.

He left the Atelier shortly thereafter to start his own studio, and established Firedance Studio for metal work in Hopewell in 2007. Here, he works on architectural projects. He made the bronze tree grates in Albert Hinds Plaza in Princeton, as well as repaired a set of brass doors that architect Michael Graves turned into a pergola at the new Capital Health Systems in Hopewell. Guillemin employs a staff of four at Firedance Studio, and hopes that an economic recovery will make the business more profitable.

Born in Texas in 1954 to French-born parents, Francois spent a part of his childhood in a provincial chateau in France built by one of Napolean’s generals, where the sculpture in the surrounding woods had been used as target practice for the Germans during World War II. Le Corbeau’s mother was a musician and musicologist and his father a neuroendocrinologist who won the Nobel Prize in 1977.

“My family always had art and art books,” says le Corbeau. “My parents always saw themselves as artists.” Dr. Roger Guillemin put his art career on hold while pursuing medicine, but is a pioneer in digital art, creating works that range from impressionistic landscapes to pure abstraction.

Le Corbeau, or the Crow, took the name of the glossy black bird while living in the mountains near Santa Fe. “It had to do with my way of living,” he said. “I thought I’d be a hermit living off the land. My friends all had Spanish and Indian blood. They had animal names: Beaver, Grasshopper, Cricket, Trout, Urraca (Spanish for magpie).” He studied forestry before art, wanting to live in the woods – anything to not have to commute in a suit and tie.

Discovering jewelry making, Guillemin left college. What he terms jewelry is more like small sculpture: a cigar box made of Nautilus shell, gold and silver, for example.

One of the works, “Life is a Verb,” is a picture frame with a magnet pulling against gravity. “Life is really a noun, but that’s static,” he says. “You want to be in motion, or you’re dead.”

Naturally, Man-Made, in Full View: The Art of le Corbeau
is on view at Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museu, through November 4. www.ellarslie.org

The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.