The Ojibwe artist's massive steel sculptures propelled him from
blue collar beginnings to the top of the art world as he devised
a career all his own.
It began with boredom, Charles Huntington once told a reporter,
when his first career as an auto mechanic became monotonous.
With spare parts, and odds and ends around the garage, he began
making art out of crushed wheels, hood ornaments and whatever else
drew his imagination.
That led to early shows of his "found objects," which won attention
from serious art collectors. A critic dubbed him "the poet of the
right, with Leonard Nadasdy, curator of the art collection
for General Mills, pictured in October 1971. (photo Star Tribune
He rose to the top of the art world, with shows at the Minneapolis
Institute of Art and grants from the National Endowment for the
Arts. His commissions were often towering pieces of steel that somehow
looked as if they were floating. Those who knew him said he was
much like his sculpture, a commanding presence, by turns intimidating
or full of grace.
It was an unlikely role for Huntington, an Ojibwe Indian from
a blue-collar background who was born in the remote northeast Wisconsin
town of Niagara. After a stint as a steam engineer in World War
II, he drove a taxi, raced cars and then began repairing them. A
year in art school followed, along with an apprenticeship, but Huntington
otherwise devised his own career, making studios where he could
find them, working always.
He'd come up from his basement studio at the Black Forest Inn
in south Minneapolis, grimy from work, said his longtime friend
and assistant Beryl Wells Hamilton. He might show off a new piece
or generously give it away to a friend. Among his last pieces was
"Unity," now installed at Hibbing Community College. It's a simple
form of two steel pillars rising and twisting together in what looks
most like a dance.
In 2012 he told the Hibbing Daily Tribune:
"I don't believe that I make sculpture. I believe that sculpture