“Do you believe in coincidences? Do you believe that sometimes things are just so poetic that they just have to unfold in a certain way?” Those were the questions artist Gordon Huether asked his wife Darcy Huether after they received a message from someone at Hormel Foods inquiring about his work.
Darcy, who is also the managing director of the Heuther Studio in Napa, Calif., thought the message might be a joke – possibly a cousin pulling a prank. She eventually returned the call and spoke with Henry Hsia, director of marketing for Columbus Craft Meats (Hayward, Calif.). He explained that Hormel Foods was hoping to create a signature art installation in front of the World Headquarters in Austin. “Not in Texas,” he added quickly, “Austin is a small town in Minnesota. You’ve probably never heard of it.”
At that, Darcy had to laugh. She told Hsia not only had she heard of Austin, Minn.; she had grown up there. Her connections to the town and Hormel Foods run deep. Her great-grandfather, grandfather and great-uncle worked for Hormel for most of their careers. “I told him that when I was a child, there wasn’t a person in my family who wasn’t supported, employed or somehow influenced by Hormel Foods,” she says. “By the time we hung up the phone, we agreed, ‘This art project just has to be.’”
By the time we hung up the phone, we agreed, ‘This art project just has to be.’Darcy Huether
The Hormel Foods team envisioned a sculpture that expressed the company’s culture and the joy its products bring to the world. They wanted something big and friendly and inviting, maybe with a little sense of humor. At meetings to decide the scope and nature of the piece, Hormel Foods team members knew they had found the right artist. Gordon Huether’s creative process is collaborative and always begins with a conversation. The part of the creative process he enjoys most is researching the history and culture of a location and listening to all the stakeholders.
“Most of the art that I do is not about me. It’s about the people who will see and interact with it every day,” Gordon says. “What I realized is I’m best at telling other people’s stories with a kind of an abstract twist.”
Gordon, who rarely creates small art, was excited by the challenge. His pieces can usually be seen from blocks away and are meant to be on the scale of the landscapes and buildings they bring to life. There is a good likelihood that you’ve walked by, under, or through one of the over 300 major installations he’s created. His art has adorned university campuses, hospitals, civic spaces and transportation centers worldwide.
He’s straightforward about the goal of his art. “I hope my work edifies humanity’s spirit,” he says. “I want to bring beauty and meaning into the world through art.”
The idea the teams finally settled on was simple: A giant 25-foot-tall stainless steel fork covered with a skin of normal-sized kitchen forks. The thousands of forks were collected from Hormel Foods team members across the company. Thousands of employees went to their family silverware drawers to participate in the project.
Manufacturing a metal fork taller than a two-story building is far too large a project for one artist. Most of Gordon’s projects are team efforts requiring highly skilled designers, fabricators and technicians. “Truth is, you’re only as good as the people you work with,” he says. “I know the same is true for Hormel. They invest in team building and create a feeling of community across generations. I hope the fork will add to that feeling.”
Like most of Gordon’s installations, the fork will be placed where the public and private spaces intersect. Given its height, the fork sculpture will undoubtedly be visible from the highway. Like the SPAM® Museum and the Hormel Foods World Headquarters, it will give Austin an additional sense of uniqueness and place. “We’re hoping the community will receive it as a gift for everyone to enjoy,” says Huether.
I know the same is true for Hormel. They invest in team building and create a feeling of community across generations.Gordon Huether
The idea of helping create a joyful piece of art in the town has extra meaning for Darcy. “It was such a great place to grow up,” she says. “I had the childhood that storybooks are made of. I really did jump in piles of leaves in the fall and skated on frozen lakes in the winter and ran through the forests in the springs and summers. I love the idea of helping create something that will become part of other people’s memory of Austin.”