University of Minnesota Alumni Association


The Man Behind Goldy

Sculptor alumnus Nick Legeros crafted the iconic bronze Goldy on campus - as well as other well-loved works throughout the Twin Cities

Photo credit: Sarah Whiting

In front of Coffman Union, the figure leans at his ease, right elbow resting on the big, blocky M that’s repeated on the front of his sweatshirt: Goldy Gopher, he of the giant buck-toothed grin, in bronze.

Another bronze stands on Target Plaza in Minneapolis, this one with a boxy cassette recorder hanging from a strap and a microphone extended, as if the man were about to buttonhole some newsworthy MLB pitcher. This artwork depicts Sid Hartman, the longtime print and radio voice of Twin Cities sports.

These community icons are two memorable works of the sculptor Nicholas (Nick) Legeros (M.F.A. ’83).

But there are many more.

Legeros created the portrait bust of Macalester College president John B. Davis, pipe in mouth, in the college’s fine arts center; the openwork relief at Unity Unitarian Church in St. Paul (We Dare Not Fence the Spirit), depicting a flock of birds appearing to fly through a delicate colonnade; and a chair-and-ottoman in bronze made to look like piles of leaves, located in a private collection. Legeros is also now at work on a commission for UMN-Duluth, a bronze of the school’s bulldog mascot, Champ.

And then there are the dreamy kids playing with model airplanes at Centennial Lakes Park in Legeros’ hometown of Edina; the little girl fishing in a bronze birdbath that’s also a sundial in Battle Lake, Minnesota; the girl joyously riding a dolphin in Lyton Park, St. Paul.

Legeros has been crafting figurative sculptures full of life, whimsy, and memory around Minnesota—and farther afield in Wisconsin, South Dakota, Colorado, and Texas—for nearly 40 years. He’s worked with churches, parks, cemeteries, corporations, and private clients ever since earning his master’s in fine art at the U of M in 1983.

His time at the University coincided with a high-water mark of focus on abstraction and intellectualized, object-less conceptual art, Legeros says, adding he was pretty much the only artist in the department committed to the human figure. He struggled a bit in that environment, he says, but one day the expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning, a member of a New York coterie that included other midcentury art greats like Clyfford Still, Franz Kline, and her husband, Willem de Kooning, paid the art department a visit.

“She walked through our grad review show and she looked at my work, which was a three-figure structure,” Legeros says. “And she said, ‘Well, I’m glad somebody’s got the balls to [focus on] the figure.’ And I was like, ‘All right! Thank you, Elaine!’”

Legeros’ commitment to the figure, and to bronze, was further inspired and nurtured by his apprenticeship with Paul Granlund (1925–2003), the noted Minnesota sculptor and longtime teacher at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.

Legeros, who from childhood loved art making and received plenty of support from his family in that direction, first enrolled in the U of M as an undergrad and spent a year in the art department. But on a visit to friends attending Gustavus, he encountered Granlund. The way the senior artist explained the mixing of plaster—a key step in bronze casting—hooked him. “I watched him talk through the process,” he says, “going back through history, explaining the consistencies of the mixture, and what actually happens chemically. I thought, this looks like a great opportunity.”

He enrolled in Gustavus but left the school after a semester because of finances. Back at the U of M again as an undergrad, he lucked into another way to connect with Granlund: an assignment in a seminar to interview a living artist. He returned to St. Peter and sat down with Granlund, who immediately asked him if he could type; the sculptor needed clerical help. “I could, so when we got done with the interview, he asked me if I’d come and work for him.” Legeros earned a bachelor’s from Gustavus under Granlund in 1977. He would work closely with the region’s master figural sculptor for two more years.

After that apprenticeship, Legeros returned to the U of M for his master’s. “I wanted to be contemporary, but at the same time, not give up what I had learned,” he explains. He found ways to fuse abstraction and the figure, and he worked in wood and cloth too, influenced by the great wood artist George Nakashima’s book The Soul of a Tree. He finished his degree show—and along came Elaine De Kooning with her vote of confidence.

When grad school ended, “I literally went from graduating on Friday to teaching on Monday,” Legeros says, at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts. It was the beginning of a long teaching career during which he spent some time in academia but mostly worked with adults in area art centers. Unlike college students, who are gone after a few years, these learners could come back as often as they wanted. “I have students I’ve worked with for 20 years,” he says. “You get to know a lot about someone in 20 years.

“I evaluate them regularly, but I don’t have to give grades, write reports, sit on committees, or do any of the other downside stuff of being a professor. And these students can become my clients as well.” Commissions for private and public pieces have come this way, he says, and in many other ways; the campus Goldy, for example, was funded by a U of M student-driven fundraiser which sold wristbands for $3 apiece.

Legeros, whose family ran the Rainbow Café at Hennepin and Lake in Minneapolis until the beloved eatery closed in 1979, is all about service—to clients, to the public, and to his profession, including serving on community development boards and as president of the Society of Minnesota Sculptors and the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association.

“You need to get out, get involved in your community,” he says. “It’s very satisfying for me, not just as an artist but as a human being, to know that I’m doing something that’s going to serve a purpose far beyond my own lifetime.”

Jon Spayde is a freelance writer in the Twin Cities

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