John Battenberg
Sculpture Extraordinaire


   While teaching sculpture at San Jose State University John Battenberg and his wife, Lynn, moved to the tranquility of the Santa Cruz Mountains from Oakland. In 1978, the mountains were still rural and considered separate, a world apart from the valley below with it’s high rise buildings and concrete sidewalks. The seclusion and magnificent scenery inspired John. The quiet gave him the time to think, to go within, and be creative. He divided his time between the mountains of California and the quarries of Italy, where he produced incredible marble sculptures. His passion inspired him to live in Italy where the materials to practice his craft were readily available, yet he was always drawn back to the convenience of the Bay Area and the beauty of his secluded three acres in the mountains.

John Battenberg has been vitally important in the establishment of bronze casting as a significant art form in this country. He helped redefine bronze casting in the United States, as well as the locality of the foundries. The foundries were originally only on the East Coast, but John championed the highly honored foundry program in the west, making the west coast a center for bronze sculpture. He has produced some of the most magnificent pieces of at San Jose State University.   Born in 1931, in Milwaukee, he graduated from Michigan State University in 1960 with a degree
in painting. He continued studying painting

at the University of Wisconsin and St. Cloud University in Minnesota. After a short stint in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, he spent two years studying at Oxford and traveling extensively throughout Europe.

He returned to the states briefly to continue his education, but moved back to England where he lived until he was offered an artist-in-residency at Western New Mexico University. It was in Silver City, New Mexico that he started experimenting with sculpting. Being inspired to create a sculpture for the university, he learned a new craft. From there he migrated to the Bay Area in search of a foundry. He settled in Oakland, did graduate work, and taught at the California College of Arts and Crafts. Invited to teach at San Jose State, he stayed 20 years while lecturing and serving as the artist in residence at colleges and universities worldwide. He left San Jose State to be able to practice his own art without interruption. He now holds the title of Professor Emeritus and has been the mentor for several renowned sculptors practicing in the Unites States today.
Widely known for his bronze and marble sculpture, he is also recognized for his drawings, prints, and oil paintings. He studied painting in college and became a self-taught sculptor in his 30’s. Very socially conscience, his work reflects a generation in time. In 1991 his show at the Bedford Gallery Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek broke down his work into three decades. The 70’s being his World War I aviators, which make a dramatic statement about the Vietnam War and the disposability of the young men who die. His very powerful women in bondage series began as the war ended. These pieces signified the social plight of women, and his disapproval. The 80’s were characterized by his Native American inspirations. He tells the story that an Indian chief gave him some eagle feathers for inspiration to create a
sculpture for the chief. The chief died before John became inspired, but his passing did inspire John to create a series of pieces in tribute to Native American’s and their invisibility in our society. Truly a voice of the times, he creates powerful works of art that affect people. You experience his sculptures, you think about them for days. They are bold, they make a statement, and they provoke your thought process.

The 80’s saw John become intensely interested in Native American wildlife. Here again, inspired to raise social consciences, he created magnificent animals; many which are becoming extinct in modern society. Powerful wolves, bears, ravens, and hawks are like “drawings in three dimensions”. John states, “I use wildlife in my work to approach and represent my feeling about the planet. I believe that wildlife is the heart of our planet and our future. My art reflects this viewpoint- my viewpoint. It is humanistic. It deals with atmosphere, environment, religion, and history. These elements are translated into form, shape and color through my eyes and my hands. I would hope that the viewer finds his or her own personal poetry in the result”.
More recently, John has produced his most involved, elaborate work to date. Commissioned by a private collector, “The Procession”, is a five-year project. It is a set of gates, eight feet tall and seven feet wide each, weighing about three tons. The facings are patinaed, cast aluminum, mounted on steel frames, and the panels are bronze. There are two large bronze panels on each gate and the artwork is on the inside of the gates, making them only visible to the public when they are open. “The Procession of Man” is on one panel and “The Procession of Women” on the other panel, depicts the groups marching to the center of the gates. The gates also have cougars, coyotes, pigeons, doves, and hawks protruding from the upper and lower panels.

Preferring to create art and then find a buyer, John doesn’t take on a lot of public commissioned jobs. The “Truckee River Walk” is an exception and a magnificent example of a water feature. It consists twelve bronze reliefs’ thatare 36” x 36” x 5”. The reliefs are divided into four sections, each section containing three panels. Native animals grace the walls. It is a functioning water fountain with water running down its panels as well as emitting from the mouths of several sculptured fountainheads.

Established with many galleries, John is considered an art maverick who experiments with new and different materials. Truly considered on the cutting edge, there is a distinctive signature to his art. Bigger that life, his sculptures embody broad social issues.

Ten years ago, John opened a studio in Phoenix in order to use a foundry there. He flys to Arizona during the week, and returns to the Santa Cruz Mountains on the weekends. His house is currently on the market and he hopes to relocate to Phoenix permanently.

More information about John can be found on his website,
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