Retired physician creates sculpture in historic studio
As a retired physician, William Faller is concerned about human and environmental health, particularly the health of water and soil.
For the last two years he has owned the former office of Dr. Oliver Martin at 404 Milwaukee St. in Kewaunee, an office built in 1874 with stained glass and tiger maple flooring that was later used as a law office by another leading Kewaunee citizen, Judge William Cowell, who practiced law there from 1925-1965.
But Faller is not using the office to practice medicine or law – but to sculpt.
Ever since he was a boy, Faller had admired the sculpture of his great uncle, William Ditke, who had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. Ditke died young, but his grandmother kept several of his sculptures of female figures in her home.
Faller, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, considered attending forestry school but decided to attend Northwestern Medical School after graduating from college, as his father had before him. He worked for many years as a pathologist at St. Mary’s Hospital in Green Bay before he retired in 2003,
After retirement, Faller carved duck and other decoys out of wood, but not satisfied with that means of artist expression, he used skills he learned from a class in figurative sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago several decades ago and from several more recent classes at the Peninsula School of Art.
Since then, he has created bronze sculptures for a variety of museums, foundations and public buildings, including the Norman Borlaug Heritage Farm in Iowa. His sculptures honor bravery, history and environmental health.
“Everything I produce has to have a message, or it is not worth it to me,” says Faller. “If you perceive art the way I think it should be perceived, you can’t help but be concerned about nature.”
Faller deeply admires the work of Norman Borlaug, a biochemist who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work as an agronomist, geneticist and plant pathologist in developing high-yield varieties of wheat, rice and corn that could be grown in developing countries to avoid famine.
Called “agriculture’s greatest spokesperson” and the “man who fed a billion people,” Borlaug’s work resulted in higher-yielding varieties of grains that helped feed millions. In Mexico, where he developed his first plants of higher-yield wheat under a program with the Rockefeller Foundation, he also helped restore the depleted soil to health. In India, where wheat averaged 800 pounds per acre, Borlaug developed wheat varieties that were resistant to a rust fungus and allowed yields to grow to 6,000 pounds per acre.
Without high-yield agriculture beginning in the 1960s, the growing world population would have needed agriculture to expand the amount of land under cultivation resulting in many losses of pristine wilderness, Faller said.
Faller’s sculpture depicts Borlaug feeding chickens on his family’s Iowa farm. Borlaug often claimed that because he knew hunger during his Depression-era childhood, he was motivated to use science to feed the world’s hungry people.
More recently, Faller has turned his attention to another great human need – clean water.
He has created a model of a sculpture for Kewaunee’s Harbor Park that depicts two Native Americans boys of the Menominee tribe. The boys have just speared a fish in Lake Michigan.
“They lived here for 10,000 years, and the water was still clean when they left,” says Faller. He said that it is important to recognize the Native American heritage of the Kewaunee area.
“We have a tourist and commercial fishing industry that should be preserved and that requires clean water,” he said.
His sculpture depicts “an age of innocence” when man and his environment could still live in harmony.
Faller has spent days researching the physical characteristics of the Menominee tribe that inhabited Kewaunee and the surrounding areas. They were stout and broad-faced compared to many other Native American tribes, Faller said.
“Their genetic pool was small,” he said. “There are few pictures to show their features.”
He has books illustrating the Menominee laying throughout his office. Faller says that when he is satisfied with the model for his sculpture, he will make a life-size mold and have it cast in bronze at a foundry owned by Jeff Adams in Mount Morris, Ill.
Several of Faller’s other sculptures also show his concern for the Great Lakes environment. He has a bronze casting in his studio of a muscular man looking down on Wisconsin and the Great Lakes with concern, which he has titled “The Environmental Man.”
Faller said that his concern for the Great Lakes has grown as he has seen soil erosion and excessive manure spreading pollute the rivers that flow into Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for millions of people.
He said that Borlaug taught the importance of soil health and believes the manure-spreading practices of some Kewaunee County farmers are lowering the value of the soil and land for elderly people who rent their land to large farmers.
Another sculpture for the Borlaug farm shows a map of the world and all the countries where Borlaug worked to improve soil health, increase crop yields and avoid mass starvation.
Faller’s sculptures are recognized by the arts community throughout the Midwest. He completed a sculpture showing children on their way to a country school for the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc and another honoring the hardships and life-saving work of firefighters, which he donated to the Kewaunee Fire Department in 2007.
Faller says he feels fortunate to have Dr. Martin’s historic office for his studio.
Busy with his three children and five grandchildren, whom he is teaching to draw, he says he does have one issue with the space.
“I don’t get to work here enough,” he says.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Retired physician creates sculpture in historic studio