As a dairy farmer’s daughter, Deb Zeller, owner and curator of Zeller Studios in Hopkins, was honored to be commissioned for a commemorative life-size bronze sculpture for the Land O’Lakes 100th anniversary celebration.
The bronze sculpture titled “Rooted in Tomorrow” signifies a Land O’Lakes member and his granddaughter walking the farm as she points to the future. It was unveiled Aug. 4 at the dairy cooperative’s Arden Hills headquarters as part of its anniversary celebration, complete with a drumroll by the Minnesota Marching Band.
While Zeller has done other bronze statues, this was definitely her most personal work and the one she considers to be her best.
Growing up a dairy farmer’s daughter, the project took on a greater meaning for Zeller, who chose to create the grandfather in the likeness of her own late father.
She was also her “dad’s left hand” helping him out on the farm as a little girl, Zeller recalled.
“I really think my dad up in heaven orchestrated this whole thing,” she said. “I felt like he was with me making it happen.”
Zeller recalled getting the email from Land O’Lakes requesting a quote, and thinking it “seemed a little too good to be true.”
She didn’t even tell them she was a dairy farmer’s daughter until after she got the commission, Zeller noted.
The one bronze sculpture that sealed the deal was of a police officer at the police memorial in her hometown of Hutchinson.
“The bronze sculpture casts a shadow and the portal casts the inverse of the officer’s shadow, representing how our police officers are ever diligent, 24 hours per day,” Zeller wrote on her website.
Another recognizable piece in her portfolio is “The Goddess,” a 7-foot bronze sculpture that has become the official face of the winery and vineyard at Parley Lake Winery in Waconia. A sister statue also stands outside her Hopkins studio.
For this particular project, Zeller based the grandfather figure on her father, Grant Knutson, who passed away a number of years ago.
He, along with his father, Axel Knutson, were both Land O’Lakes dairy farmers in rural Hutchinson. The third-generation farm remains in the family and is now operated by Zeller’s brothers.
For the image of the granddaughter, Zeller used a combination of her two great-nieces, as well as the dimensions of a neighbor girl.
Typically, creating a life-size bronze sculpture takes about a year, with casting at the foundry taking about three months. Though it can take twice as long, depending on availability, she noted.
This project was done in record time taking only 10 months from quote to finish, the timeframe Zeller was given by Land O’Lakes.
“And we did it,” she said, noting the project was completed two weeks prior to its official unveiling.
Zeller’s love for art began as a young girl, receiving her first set of oil paints for her 13th birthday.
“Our farm family was poor and that was a big investment for them,” she said. “So, that’s when my artist status began in my book.”
While bronze is her first love, “it’s extremely expensive,” she said, when it comes to materials and the casting process. Now, she only works with bronze if it’s commissioned.
In addition to bronze, Zeller also works with stone, fused glass, encaustics (beeswax and pigments), oil, watercolor, acrylic, charcoal and pencil.
“And just for good measure, I do amateur photography,” she said, adding that “it’s great to have excellent reference material.”
As part of this recent high-profile project, Zeller also updated her website, www.zellerstudio.com.
The emphasis is now on “Creating a Community for Art,” including Zeller’s art, and other featured art in the her Hopkins gallery; as well as information and work created by the Minnesota Figure Study Collaborative, groups that meet weekly for the purpose of drawing or painting from live models.