Charles Huntington is no longer with us, but parts of him still shine in towering sculptures throughout the area.
His love for art is built into his 24-foot steel model outside General Mills in Golden Valley. His craftsmanship glows in the polished stainless-steel piece in the beer garden at the Black Forest Inn in Minneapolis. His natural talent is folded into the 17-foot orange-red steel figure at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire.
The Minneapolis sculptor who designed more than 100 pieces large and small throughout the region died March 20 from prostate cancer and heart problems at 91. Huntington, called Chuck by friends, was widely known for his abstract geometric sculptures positioned in places like businesses and universities in the area.
“You have to have an ability that just is there,” said Beryl Wells Hamilton, Huntington’s sculpting assistant and close friend. “I’d say he was born with it.”
Huntington, who was Ojibwe, was born in Niagara, Wis., and grew up in Minneapolis before embarking on a wide-ranging life path.
On his 17th birthday, he enlisted in the Navy during World War II, said Wells Hamilton, of Meadowlands, Minn. After returning home, his careers shifted from boiler tender to classic car mechanic to race car driver.
He began to turn car parts and objects he’d find at junkyards into found art sculptures, she said. His profile started to climb as he moved from found objects to working directly in steel and stainless steel, moving toward more abstract forms.
Huntington had twin abilities that lent themselves to sculpting: understanding how things worked and a knack for design, Wells Hamilton said.
Huntington spent just one year in art school. The rest was self-taught.
Huntington’s brother Ron Huntington said that wherever they would go together, someone would recognize Chuck.
He had a deep love for art, Ron said.
“It was just an expression for him to create,” said Ron, 83, of Shakopee.
The little things
The designs for Huntington’s sculptures were all in his head, Wells Hamilton said — never programmed into computers or drawn on paper. Sometimes, he’d do sketches on bar napkins.
Huntington was an assistant for figurative sculptor Paul Granlund, and then took on his own assistants — first Mark Heffelfinger and, starting in 1978, Wells Hamilton. Huntington was one of the first artists in the country to receive a National Endowment for the Arts grant to instruct as an artist in residence at St. Paul’s Ramsey Middle School.
He built several pieces in the basement of the Black Forest Inn in Minneapolis. Owner Erich Christ called Huntington an “ingenious man” with an opinion about everything.
Huntington found shape in the little things, Wells Hamilton said. If he was at a restaurant and the silverware was flat, he’d bend a spoon or fork into a curve.
He retired at 65 but continued to make origami sculptures until macular degeneration made that tough five years ago.
“He’s gone, and the sculptures exist wherever they are,” Wells Hamilton said.
In addition to his brother Ron, he is survived by brothers Dean Huntington of Bloomington and Dale Huntington of La Crosse, Wis. The family will hold a gathering on April 22 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Black Forest Inn in Minneapolis.