Known internationally for his large, colorful metal compositions and outsized personality, sculptor Michael D. Bigger was also a charismatic teacher whose dynamic classroom style energized generations of students at Minneapolis College of Art and Design where he taught for more than 20 years.
Bigger, 73, died in his sleep Feb. 16 at his home in South Minneapolis. His death was announced by Jay Coogan, president of the Minneapolis college where Bigger held the title Professor Emeritus. He taught sculpture there from 1988 until a few years before his death.
He was "a sculptor's sculptor, a fearless maker of large scale work," said MCAD colleague Brad Jirka in a statement. "Watching him work alone on a piece was like watching a ballet with a crane."
Several of his newest sculptures, including a bronze and plexiglass piece called "Wave 4" will be at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisc. in a show opening March 4.
In a highly competitive field, Bigger was especially generous in his support of younger sculptors to whom "he was a mentor who brought a very humanistic approach," said John Hock, artistic director at Franconia Sculpture Park near Taylors Falls, Mn. and a friend for more than 15 years. Bigger served on the Franconia board of directors for eight years starting in 2001.
Born in Waukegan, Illinois on Oct. 10, 1937, Bigger graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and earned an MFA degree in sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1968. He then taught welding at RISD for a year before taking a post at the Atlanta School of Art and subsequently serving as visiting lecturer at the University of Manitoba School of Art in Winnipeg (1973) and Massachusetts College of Art in Boston (1974). He returned to the Manitoba school in the late 1970s, rising to Associate Professor by 1979. As his career took off in the 1980s, he also taught at the University's of Texas and Maine before settling in Minneapolis.
In a 45 year exhibition career, he showed his work at galleries and museums in New York City, Chicago, Mexico City, and throughout Texas. His work is featured in corporate and museum collections around the country including the Oakland Museum of Art, Cincinnati Zoological Society, Vassar College and the San Antonio Museum of Art. In Minnesota he exhibited at Franconia Sculpture Park and the Western Sculpture Park in St. Paul among other sites.
Bigger is survived by his wife Barbee, son Gregory W. Bigger of Bacliff, Texas and daughter Leigh A. Bigger of Brockton, Mass. Private services have been held, but a public memorial will be staged in spring.