The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 24, 2013

Left behind: Artist's sculptures of industrial decay on display

By Tanner Kent
The Free Press

MANKATO — Don’t call them models.

Though Dave Rowe’s sculptures might seem to be miniature reproductions of refineries, factories, mills and other rusting relics of American industrialism, they are not.

Rather, they are something more.

With no humans to give the densely constructed and sprawling machines a sense of scale, they are at once hulking, impenetrable monoliths of human inventions, and fragile re-creations of a long-forgotten landscape. In this vacuum of human presence, Rowe highlights social inattention as much as mechanical inattention.

“These ruins are visually compelling,” Rowe said, “but someone’s livelihood was irrevocably changed along the way.”

Rowe, who is a visiting art instructor at Indiana University, is the artist currently on exhibit at Minnesota State University’s Conkling Gallery. Rowe, who is hosting a free lecture at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, is also the 2011 recipient of the Efroymson Contemporary Artist Fellowship, a prestigious $20,000 prize awarded annually to artists in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

At the Conkling, Rowe is exhibiting a handful of his large-scale sculptures, which measure several feet long and are displayed at eye level. Utilizing primarily wood, nails and glue, Rowe portrays a roller coaster, a train depot, a refinery and others.

Rowe grew up in rural central Illinois where it’s not uncommon to “drive for miles without seeing another human.” He grew up noticing and appreciating such icons of industry for their social and psychological properties as well as their aesthetic ones. But, he also came to understand that “a lot of people were left behind” in America’s post-industrial society.

As such, his designs are not intended to be scale reproductions. They seem instead to be exaggerated memories paying homage to the ingenuity that created such machines while also deploring their abandon.

“The idea of ’the American ruin’ is something that has gotten a lot of attention lately,” Rowe said. “It’s a response to this feeling that there is a lot of change happening.”

During his lecture, Rowe said he will discuss his background and his development as an artist. He will also discuss the impact of his Efroymson prize, which allowed him to purchase a laser-cutting tool.

Rowe said the use of such technology has affected the conceptual premise of his work in the sense that he, too, has begun abandoning certain industries in favor of new technology. In one of his most recent pieces, “Coaster,” Rowe used his laser-cutter to fabricate long, thin strips of plywood that simulate a roller coaster’s undulating track.

“It shows how my work is changing with the adoption of these technologies,” he said.

For more info about Rowe’s work, visit