Sculptor Reveals The History Of Divorce Through Welding

Photo: Bryan Bennett, AP

As West Michigan’s two major cities, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids have a lot in common. They both are home to successful microbreweries (Bells and Founders); they are both college towns (Western Michigan and Grand Valley State); and they both are full of art. While Grand Rapids is home to the colorful Calder Plaza, Kalamazoo has a smaller piece that has become of recent interest. It’s called “Industrial Forms II” and it may fall apart if the city doesn’t do something to fix it.

Oddly enough, the city may not have even gotten this sculpture if it weren’t for the artist’s divorce. In looking back this sculpture’s past, one also gets a strange snapshot of what divorce was like 40 years ago.

Where Did The Statue Come From?

Doug Gruizenga graduated from Western with two degrees, including an M.A. In 1975, he won a sculpture competition in South Bend. For the contest, he submitted three scaled-down models of larger pieces. After winning, Gruizenga donated a full-scale version of one model to the city of Kalamazoo. It is nine feet tall and made of corten steel, a material that develops deep rust colors over time. The statue still stands at the North Kalamazoo mall.

An Artist Runs Out Of Room

One reason Gruizenga donated the statue was because of a divorce. According to MLive, the artist was “in the throes of a divorce with no place to store his second large work of art,” leading him to give it to the city. At the time, the sculpture was valued at $7,000 and was to be placed between several wall murals. It was an excellent solution, and likely allowed the artist to focus on personal affairs. However, the Kalamazoo Gazette’s 1976 article on the sculpture does not mention divorce.

A Different Time For Divorce

The original article in the Gazette was written in February of 1976, within a year of Gruizenga’s offering to Kalamazoo. An article in National Affairs says that this was a strange time in divorce culture. The 60s and 70s saw the introduction of no-fault divorces across most of the country. This means that couples didn’t have prove a spouse’s wrongdoing to legally separate. Also, the ongoing “sexual revolution” of this period encouraged many couples to explore options outside of society’s traditional romantic paradigm.

National Affairs credits “post-war prosperity” as one reason for shifting attitudes toward divorce. The article says, “the psychological revolution … allowed people to give greater attention to non-material concerns [and] played a key role in reconfiguring men and women’s views of marriage and family life.”

Snapshot Of The Past

MLive’s recent article on Gruizenga’s sculpture focused on the fact that the city needs to weld together its pieces. When the sculpture was first built, Gruizenga used bolts to keep it together. After 40 years, these bolts have become weak. Gruizenga says that he’s told the city over the past year that his sculpture needs to be welded or it may cause harm to pedestrians.

Since the 70s, divorce rates have decreased and the institution of marriage has gone through major changes. This year Kalamazoo is taking the steps to weld together Gruizenga’s sculpture. The city is replacing the bonds of the past with something newer and stronger. As a society, should we focus on doing the same with divorce, or have we done so already?

Parker, R. (2016, June 6). 40-Year-Old Bolts To Be Replaced By Welds Soon, To Sculptor’s Relief. MLive. Retrieved on June 10, 2016, from http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2016/06/40-year-old_bolts_to_be_replac.html

Stersic, T. (1976, Feb. 8). Eye Location For Sculpture. Kalamazoo Gazette. Retrieved on June 10, 2016, from http://media.mlive.com/kzgazette_impact/other/gruizenga2.pdf

Wilcox, B. (Fall 2009). The Evolution of Divorce. National Affairs. Retrieved on June 10, 2016, from http://nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-divorce