Hugh Lassen speaks to an Art Walk participant at a celebration of his piece Bud Form in Auburn. Lassen is a wild Maine blueberry farmer and got his inspiration for this piece from the bulging buds in early spring that foretell a prosperous season. He enjoys working with marble for the durability of the material. “Kids can climb on it, they can snot on it, they can get sunscreen on it,” Lassen said, “The oils give the piece a patina that is quite beautiful.” Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

For those who are new to the Twin Cities — Lewiston and Auburn — or for those that had not already noticed, please note one of our new public art commissions happily nestled in the James B. Longley Memorial park.

The 6-foot tall, 9,300-pound, granite sculpture titled “Bud Form is one of many “rocks” that artist Hugh Lassen magically transforms. While this sculpture proves itself as an artwork of refined craftsmanship, it is, nevertheless, an abstract work. Thus, an average visitor sees no immediate recognizable forms — like a dog or a face — associated with a particular meaning. However, even an abstract work, or its creator, tells us something, or perhaps waits to evoke something out of the viewer.

We might wonder, what does this sculpture say in the context of the city?

Why should we care?

What does his sculpture and/or body of work say in comparison to other sculptural mediums?

To attempt to answer these questions, I took the liberty of traveling north to Cherryfield, where Lassen’s studio and home lie. But more specifically, where a span of 12,000-year-old rocks are scattered throughout a meadow of wild blueberries (Lassen runs a blueberry business during the summer). Though unrelated to Lassen’s practice, these ancient rocks alongside his polished ones are undeniably in conversation with one another. He actually acquires his stones from stone yards around different parts of Maine and Canada. Below is a guide to Lassen’s discography of stones:


Gneiss granite: a metamorphic rock made up of minerals such as quartz and feldspar, which are formed through intense heat and pressure. Gneiss is foliated, causing pockets of lighter and darker minerals that vary in density. Gneiss tends to have a salt and pepper like complexion.

Slate: fine-grained, clay-like metamorphic rock that cleaves, or splits, easily into durable slabs. Slate uniquely splits on the cleavage rather than the bedding plane. It is a very soft and malleable stone due to its formation under low-grade metamorphic conditions (low pressure and temperature).

Bluestone: an umbrella term for sedimentary rocks like sandstone or limestone that appear blue-gray in color. These rocks form underwater through the granular deposition of other rocks and minerals, which lend themselves to relatively easy malleability.

Soapstone: soft and smooth metamorphic rock formed under patterns of fluctuating heat and pressure, combined with the infusion of mineral-rich water and other liquids. Soapstone is commonly used as a countertop surface and for cooking pots and fireplaces, due to its heat resistant properties and unique veiny pattern.

Basalt: dark-colored, fine-grained, igneous rock which underlies more of Earth’s (and Mars’) surface than any other rock type.

Bud Form,” like Lassen’s other works, began as a series of preparatory sketches and then a scale-model, sculpted out of plaster and spray painted with a dark, granite-like finish. Some models are sent to a foundry (Green Foundry in Eliot) to be turned into molds that are later cast in bronze. These molds are sometimes included in exhibitions. They also serve as proposals to send to selection committees, juries, or a commissioner (in this case, the Maine Arts Commission and LA Arts), who use the model to adjust to the needs of the intended space and community.


I will just note that the scale models are impressive in their own right. Once a final prototype has been established, Lassen initiates his craft, like the great Hephaestus. His sculptures begin with a large slab of granite, so heavy that it is only moveable by a crane and truck. (To wit, “Bud Form” began as a slab of 18,000-plus pounds.)

The bulk of the trimming is carried out with the delicate hand of a chainsaw and then later, with smaller circular sanding tools of varying grit, to further define its distinct curves, holes, and concaves. Lassen asserts himself as a direct carver, in line with the 20th century oeuvre of artists like Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepsworth, such that the artist’s hand is directly related to the finished work.

Compare Pop Artist Jeff Koons, whose hand is in the conceptual, which is then physically realized by a paid team of studio assistants (i.e. “Balloon Dog); by contrast, Brancusi opted to make his sculptures by hand, carving them himself out of wood or stone, or casting them himself out of metal (“Bird in Space,” 1923).

Some stones are harder to work with than others, Lassen mentions, like the fragility of slate and its susceptibility to scratching, as opposed to the solidity and regularity of granite.

One of the newest pieces of public art in Auburn is “Bud Form” created by Maine sculptor Hugh Lassen. The abstract sculpture at the entrance of the Longley Memorial Bridge overlooks the Androscoggin River. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

The installation of “Bud Form was not a walk in the — James B. Longley — Park: it required serious crane maneuvers and heavy-lifting of this unseemingly fragile object onto the ground. To mount the object requires careful offsetting of the base of the sculpture in order for it to rest evenly on the curved topography of the park, an engineering tool that Lassen developed over many years of installation.

His sculptures take approximately one year to complete, somewhat of a slow and contemplative process, though he finds the culmination of every project extremely gratifying.


Lassen often finds inspiration for his figures within the rock itself; the busier the rock, the simpler the form. His work is sculpturally more reductive than additive, such that the focus is tied to one medium: the rock.

He is particularly interested in depicting human and animal forms, though the abstraction of his works elicit almost incalculable interpretation. Perhaps what he really wants to depict in his sculptures is the essence of an object reduced to its simplest form. Consider the polysemous nature of the word sculpture, how many forms it can take, how many mediums, and how many meanings.

Lassen’s work “Rhino,” currently exhibited at the Edith Wharton estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, was one of 30 sculptures chosen for an art initiative called SculptureNow. He was struck by the diversified approaches to the artists’ sculptures, and how the meaning of sculpture not only looked different, but also functioned.

Lassen has been commissioned to create another sculpture for the city of Lewiston, expected to be installed at the beginning of the new year. This work, “Arboreal Figure,” will be mounted in Kennedy Park, among its fellow arboreals — trees.

A Lassen sculpture is meant to be touched, climbed, poked. It is not something we are expected to “understand,” but rather something to feel, something to unify the landscape.

If there is one thing I learned last summer as I lived and worked in Lewiston, it is that this city is dedicated to the public arts and sees legitimate value in the unexpected encounters of a mural, a series of photographs along the road, or sculptures that either light up, rattle, or linger peacefully.

In this way, I think Lassen’s “Arboreal Figure will rest nicely in one of our most cherished parks.

Lucy Sherman is a student at Bates College, where she is majoring in art and visual culture.

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