Mingei Museum hosts 'Erik Gronborg Experience': Family Sunday set for Dec. 18 with music, art projects

Want to have an artful experience for the holidays? Visit the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park for the “Erik Gronborg Experience,” a selection of striking pieces from the half-century-long career of the Solana Beach-based artist on exhibit through March 12.

Gronborg first came to the United States from Denmark in 1959, a working-class Dane looking for a progressive art education. He found what he wanted at UC Berkeley in the early 1960s, where a community of artists were doing their own bronze-casting and gathering around abstract-expressionist ceramic guru Peter Voulkas. Gronborg began as a sculptor, started making a name for himself while still in college, then found new success as a ceramic artist, which is how he is best known. He has lived and worked in the San Diego area since the mid-1970s, teaching ceramics at Mira Costa College until 2001.

“He’s so much more than a ceramic artist,” said curator Dave Hampton, who first showed some of Gronborg’s work at the Mingei in 2011 as part of an exhibit called “Craft Revolution” and has been planning a major retrospective ever since. “Erik’s work is a blend of craft and fine art, and he’s been incredibly good at whatever he’s done — cast bronze sculpture, carved wood furniture, even writing,” Hampton said. “And his house and garden — the way he and his wife, Irina, transform the world — is an art piece, too.”

So part of the house is displayed at the Mingei, with views of the garden, in what is not just an exhibit, but an “experience,” a real sense of the artist’s creative life over 50-plus years. Some of Gronborg’s writings are featured, too, with selected photos, in the attractive brochure that accompanies the show. 

In the living room installation, don’t miss the painting — specially framed by her husband — by Irina, an artist in her own right, who teaches drawing at The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla. And spend a few minutes watching the large-screen, silent excerpt from a 1979 video showing Gronborg at work on a ceramic piece. To see more, step into the Mingei Studio for a small-screen viewing of “Erik Gronborg: Artist in Clay,” a 30-minute video by Judith Nikolaidis, which originally aired on KPBS-TV. 

Does Gronborg have favorites among his pieces? “They’re all mine,” he said. “I love them all.” He works primarily in wood these days, and will be giving an illustrated talk on “Making Furniture, Slow And Spontaneous” — his special approach to woodworking — Jan. 26. 

“Slow and spontaneous. That’s the nature of working in wood — it takes time,” Gronborg said. “You have to make it functional and sturdy enough to last, but the shape of it, the way it develops, is the spontaneous part. When I start out, I have no idea what the piece will look like when it’s finished. Most woodworkers work in a much more controlled fashion. I work with any medium the same way.”

If you have questions about “The Gronborg Experience,” ask the docents, who are exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable. And there’s more to see at the Mingei: upstairs are exhibits of American and European Folk Art, Artful Tools and Utensils, and other fine things from the permanent collection. There’s great shopping too, in the gift store.

Come on Family Sunday, Dec. 18, and admission is just $5 per family, which includes live music, art projects and plenty of family fun. 

IF YOU GO: “The Erik Gronborg Experience” is on view through March 12 at Mingei International Museum, 1439 El Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego. There will be a Family Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 18 with admission for special activities $5 per family. Erik Gronborg will present an illustrated talk, “Making Furniture, Slow And Spontaneous,” 6-7:30 pm. Thursday, Jan. 26, details at sfoley@mingei.org (619) 239-0003. mingei.org

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