Robert Huff: Huffscapes in Wood, Bronze, and Mixed Media

Robert Huff Sculpture

“Titan,” detail. Photo by Francesco Casale

Robert Huff’s studio and the exhibition Robert Huff/ 47 Years in Miami seamlessly join three kinds of studio experiences: process + making; teaching; and community-building. Just as Brancusi’s studio is preserved at the Centre Pompidou, Paris thanks to friends like Sonia Delaunay who interceded on his behalf, Huff’s studio is preserved in photos by Steven Brooke, an A.I.A.-award-winning photographer. The studio, located in southwest Miami-Dade County, presents areas for wood work, painting, and drawing, and is loaded with industrial and hand tools, paints, pencils, and projects on hand-built tables and shelves. He created steel, aluminum, and bronze metalwork in two nearby shops.

Robert Huff Sculpture

Completed wood sculpture on left, painting table on right. Photo by Steven Brooke.

The studio shows an artist who moved fluently among diverse media. Artist Robert Chambers notes, “In regard to respecting tools and materials, Bob was a meticulous artisan mixing the abilities of a shipmaker, draftsman, jeweler, and architect.” Huff told Miami Herald art critic emerita Helen Kohen that, for him, metal, paint, and canvas are all fluid elements, in play until the artist realizes his/her idea.[1] The studio also represents the ways that Robert Huff worked beside and with students for decades at Miami-Dade College, shaping that studio into a space from which many leading Miami artists would emerge, including sculptors Robert Chambers, Karen Rifas, Luis Gispert, and George Sánchez Calderón. Sculptor Ralph Provisero noted that at social gatherings, the studio became a focus for artists who liked to hang out there. Huff’s wife Barbara Young added, “People loved to get into the studio to see what Huff was up to. All the tools and order were fascinating, but new work was the big magnet.”

The 47 Years exhibition demonstrates Huff’s melding of multiple media as well as his three kinds of studios. Huff shared ideas in his personal art studios and used the Miami-Dade College studio as a problem-solving laboratory for himself and students. His studio life also played a role in building the arts scene in Miami, which, artists tell me, was almost non-existent 50 years ago. Former students, faculty members, artists, curators, gallerists, museum directors, and collectors, most old friends, celebrated the artist on the last day of Robert Huff’s exhibition at the Miami Dade College Museum and Freedom Tower.

Jeremy Mikolajczak, Chief Curator at the MDC Museum, cited Huff’s “idea of seeing art in its purest form…He influenced this community and generations of artists through his passions, his levels of questioning his environment, and the language of forms that he developed.”

Robert Huff Sculpture

“Floridascape,” 1973, chrome, Plexiglas, pencil, enamel paint, found parts, 14” x 27” x 16 ½”. Photo by Francesco Casale

Starting in the 1970s, as seen in Floridascape, 1973, Huff’s work abstractly organized and integrated the Florida landscape, the industrial glass and steel cityscape, and the colorful people/animal-scape. Huff’s widow Barbara Young calls some sculpture like this “Huffscapes.” Rigger V, 1988, employs wood, aluminum, and found parts to create wonder-filled forms, shadows, and a semi-oval void. A laminated curved wood piece rises up to hold an art deco vase. The artist’s use of grids, here in wood and elsewhere in bronze, variously symbolizes windows, terrains, light, openings, and boundaries. The wood is immaculately cut, joined, and finished.

Robert Huff Sculpture

“Site/Tabula,” bronze, 1992, 25 ½” x 27” x 18”. Photo by Francesco Casale

Site/Tabula, 1992 is a bronze sculpture with a tower of windows joined to an angled solid landscape with objects and pockets. The Sidh Study 12, 1996-7 is part of a series of laminated wood and bronze works that wed the landscape or base with a bronze form that has architectural and figurative facets. Sidh refers to a Celtic mythology about inhabitants of another world.  Titan, 2010, of wood, bronze, stainless steel, and coal, is a reflection on strip mining in Appalachia, where Huff and his wife Barbara created a second living space and studio after they retired. An elaborate wooden tower/trestle system sends coal up its steep chute to symbolize mining practices and structures that are eviscerating the mountains.

Huff’s range of work in the exhibition variously evokes the greens of the Everglades, Virginia, and wilderness areas; the gold on red icons and cityscapes he found on two trips to Russia; and the ongoing despoilment and overdevelopment of Florida and other places.

The Robert Huff/ 47 Years book designer, Francesco Casale, said it best: “Robert Huff was above the fray. I can’t drive around and look at buildings and not think of Huff’s recurring theme about the struggle and balancing act between what people are building and what they’re tearing apart — nature’s bounty.”

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All photos of Robert Huff studio by Steven Brooke.

Robert Huff’s studio, for me, symbolizes all of the ways that artists combine materials, processes, ingenuity, and exchanges with others to make art. Robert Huff died in August, 2014, and his book, exhibition, and studio represent Huff’s message to the world: art may open doors and windows to an integrated, earth-centered consciousness.

By Jan Garden Castro

See vimeo.com/104354174 for an interview with Robert Huff in his studio.


[1] For this quote, see Vasari Project transcript http://tiny.cc/RobertHuff, p.22, March 2014 and http://tiny.cc/HuffKohen. All quotes from Huff’s colleages were recorded on November 8 and 9, 2015 with each person’s permission.

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