Among the winners at last weekend’s Woodstock Film Festival, in New York, was a film about artist Gendron Jensen, 73, who for many years lived in Grand Rapids, Minn. Gendron has been drawing meticulously detailed images of bones for more than 45 years, in pencil and in stone lithography
Filmmaker Kristian Berg, who grew up in Grand Rapids, won Best Short Documentary for the 28-minute film, “Poustinia/ The Art of Gendron Jensen.” Its title references a place where one retreats to meditate and pray.
The documentary focuses on Gendron’s artistic passion and his search for what he calls “the bony relics of wild creatures.” The film taps into a remarkable archive of film footage and photos from the past, as we watch Gendron first as a young man and later, white-haired and slightly stooped, in his 70s, still tramping through the forests and at work in his studio, which is now outside Taos, N.M., where he lives with his wife, artist Christine Taylor Patten.
“For me, it’s always been the bones,” Gendron says in the film.
The promotional image from the movie is a self-portrait that Gendron did in 1983. In the drawing, his profile is surrounded by the bones of four creatures: the pelvic girdle of a black bear, freshwater fish bones, the sternum of an eagle and the jaw bone of a snapping turtle.
Largely self-funded, the documentary has been in the works for more than a decade, though Kristian’s effort to capture Gendron on film began much earlier. While in high school, Kristian shot a black-and-white film of the artist, who was a close friend of his father. “I've known him since I was 8 years old. All the kids in the neighborhood knew Gendron,” Kristian said. “He had his first art show in our church.” That early footage, however, did not survive. Music in the film is from local composers.
The documentary has been entered into other film contests, and Kristian, a longtime filmmaker who once worked at Twin Cities Public Television, hopes to see it air locally at some point. “It’s a natural that it should be in Minnesota. It should be all over the nation, really,” he said. “My ultimate wish for the film is to inspire gallery owners to put together screenings where Gendron could lecture on his work.”
Find the film trailer below. To order a DVD of the film, go to bramblefilms.com/poustinia.