Art and science: Local artist’s work exhibited at the LASM Museum

Published 4:23 pm Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Local artist Richard Swenson sees art in some unusual objects, and because of his ingenuity, his sculptures are now being exhibited at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum.

Referring to himself as a “scrap” artist, Swenson found his niche in the genre by keeping his “junk” mostly intact. “Swenson didn’t invent the idea,” said Sam Losavio, Assistant Director for the museum. Still, his work is proving to be very popular at the museum. Why?

A retired Oceanic Acoustics Researcher, Swenson, who admittedly needs something to do with his time, set out restoring John Deere tractors. After redoing 60 of the tractors, he grew disenchanted with the task. Surrounded with leftover pieces and parts, Swenson begin welding them together to create figures.

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“I believe there is correlation between art and science,” Swenson said. This became evident for him as he soon delighted in the number of interesting animals he created – some mythical, some comical, some realistic – and he inadvertently stumbled across a form of artistic expression that fulfilled both his science mind, and his creative gene – a gene up to this point, he didn’t know he had!

Swenson’s hook in the scrap art world is that he does not alter the parts. Whether it be a connecting rod, fan blade, car part, tractor part, or any other type of metal, these parts are as clear to a mechanic as the creatures that he creates are to any other eye.

Tucked away in his home in Carriere, Swenson has surrounded himself and his wife, Vivian Chen, with a menagerie of life forms made of metal parts from just about anything. There is a dog from a bike frame, deer from park benches, turtles from woks, and fish from kitchen utensils.

At first look, one sees the character that has been created, personality included, but it doesn’t take careful study to start to see the connecting rods, rocker arms and tractor tanks, in unaltered states, that make the work so unique, thoughtful, and eerily human.

His artistic process can either start with a metal piece that acts as a muse for the sculpture, or Swenson will have a character in mind, and he must go out and find the pieces to create it. “The parts are the source, and super essential,” said Swenson. “The more variety you have, the more options you have to create characters and shapes.”

Scraps found from old junk piles, mostly found on farms up North, sit neatly organized and categorized on the property. “You can’t just pile it up, you have to group it,” Swenson said.

Swenson has discovered an every man’s art. “We are a technical society,” he said. “I come along and pick up this junk and put it together in a way that makes it delightful or interesting so you can recognize it and then see the ingenuity – a very key thing in our society. We respect ingenuity.”

The bottom line for Swenson is he does this for fun. He does not do this for commercial gain, and his treasure hunt for the junk parts he needs is what keeps him attracted to the medium.

The LASM museum features an eclectic blend of artwork, and Losavio knew he wanted to exhibit Swenson’s sculptures almost immediately. “He uses a great deal of skill, thought, and a real ability to transform scrap metals,” said Losavio.

Swenson’s exhibit at the LASM in Baton Rouge, La. is open now, and will run through June 22. The museum will also be featuring a Jim Henson exhibit starting March 29, and running through June 22. For more information on these and other exhibits, call 225-344-5272, or visit