By Jennifer Sadler
Helma Groot is a Dutch artist living in Columbus. She is represented by the Ward gallery in Harbor Springs, Michigan, the River gallery in Chelsea, Michigan, The Art Store in Charleston, West Virginia, and Art Access Gallery in Columbus. Groot's recent solo shows include Port Columbus Airport, West Liberty State College in West Virginia, Ohio Dominican University in Columbus and the Argyle gallery in Newark, Ohio. She has created public art pieces for the American Cancer Society, the Dublin Arts Council, American Art Resources, Toledo Childrens Hospital, Bexley High School, SKOR in the Netherlands, and others. She was featured on HGTV's That's Clever in 2007. After attending high school in Jakarta, Indonesia, Stuttgart, Germany and Holland, Michigan, Groot graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design in 1989 and studied furniture making in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
GCAC: When did you become interested in creating public artworks?
Groot: I made my first large-scale mobile in 1992. It was a commission for a home in Chicago. I really loved working on such a large scale, and since the mobile was very visible from the street, it was fun to hear about people walking by the house to see the artwork. I became interested in working on a larger scale and in creating public work because of that project.
GCAC: What sort of public artworks do you have on display now – and where are they located? What kind of scale are we talking about?
Groot: The mobile I just finished is in an elementary school in Hamilton, Ohio. The mobile there covers a space of about 20'x20'x18'. In Columbus, the outdoor piece called 1000 Lives is at the American Cancer Society Headquarters on Franz road. It's made of aluminum and measures 12'x6'. I also worked with a group of high school students in Bexley on a mobile for their cafeteria. It's a collaborative piece hanging in a large space that can be viewed from the street. Other works are in hospitals in Toledo, Ohio, Texas and the Netherlands.
GCAC: What is it that attracts you most when deciding whether to get involved with a project?
Groot: What attracts me most is the challenge of making something meaningful and beautiful that also meets someone else's needs. Working together with the people commissioning the art is always exciting to me. Sometimes I get to decide what theme we're working with, and sometimes the client has a clear idea.
GCAC: What is one of the most rewarding aspects of creating public artwork? Can you share a particularly memorable experience?
Groot: It's always great when the client really enjoys the work. For the piece I just finished, the principal became very emotional when we hung the first part of the mobile. She talked about the kids who get to see it every day, and how much they would appreciate something like this being done for them.
There was a dedication ceremony and I was expected to give a short speech. It's rewarding that people actually want to hear about the meaning of the piece and the process of making the artwork. After the speeches, I had a chance to talk to a group of students who will be looking at the work every school day. Their questions and comments were smart and sweet and they seemed to be very happy with the artwork.
GCAC: Can you share some insight into your process of conceiving and developing your works?
Groot: For the commissioned work, I generally meet with the people/person commissioning the work, and then make sketches within a few weeks. I take in consideration the size, a theme, the surroundings and more. For the American Cancer Society, the number 1000 was an important part of the artwork, so I came up with 1000 figures, spaced very close together, to give a feeling of how many people that truly is. I first made color sketches, and once they were approved, I made a three-dimensional maquette. For the finished piece I worked with a welder, who cut the small pieces which I then painted individually (with help from others) and attached to a large frame.
GCAC: What do you think constitutes a successful public art program for a community?
Groot: I suppose for a program to be successful in the community it has to provide artwork that is meaningful to the people seeing it. That doesn't necessarily mean the majority of the public has to like it. Pleasing everyone is an impossible task! If the work creates a dialogue between people - especially those who don't necessarily step into a museum or gallery - that counts as a success as well. I suppose a successful public art program for a community would also be a well-funded one.