Francis P. Riggs
Francis Porter Riggs was born in New York City in 1922. He is a sculptor of minimalist metal pieces and a cofounder of the North Mountain Artists Co-operative of Utah. He lives in Highland, Utah.
Riggs graduated from the Pratt Institute in New York specializing in industrial design. He moved to Utah when the Milo Baughman Design firm of Wellesley, Massachusetts was invited to set up an environmental design department at Brigham Young University. He taught part-time at BYU and, in 1972, he began teaching full-time and pursuing a new career in sculpture.
As a formalist, he is interested in the relationship between shape and form; as an abstract artist his work is nonrepresentational. Sentinel (1988) and Tohatchi (1988) are part of the Springville Museum of Art's permanent collection. Star Collector was purchased by Utah State Collection of Fine Art.
Biography adapted from Artists of Utah.
Frank Riggs is one of the most significant nonobjective sculptors of Utah. He is acknowledged for minimalist constructions of painted and highly designed aluminum. Originally, Frank was a New Englander, born in New York City. Later, his father moved their family from the “Big City“ atmosphere to the country village of Chappaqua, New York, where he lived until he left to study design at the Pratt Institute. Then, like for many men of his generation, World War II interrupted and changed Riggs' life.
As a member of the Air Force, he was stationed in France, but then, with a small group of other pilots, he was sent to Scotland. There wasn't room in the barracks, so Riggs and his group were billeted with townspeople. There he got to know a neighbor woman, never dreaming she would become his mother-in-law. However, when he met her daughter, Rosemary, he decided liking her mother was a good reference, and they married and eventually returned to the United States, he with the US Forces and she as one of three passengers aboard a tramp steamer.
Back in the States, Frank and Rosemary Riggs moved to the original family seat of Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he worked as an industrial designer. After working there for a time, he moved to Utah because his employer, Milo Baugham, a famous contemporary furniture designer, was invited to establish an environmental design department at Brigham Young University and in so doing, moved his design staff with him. Riggs taught part time at B.Y.U. and when Baughman returned to the East, Riggs left furniture design and pursued his lifelong ambition of a career as a sculptor.
Although Riggs' mother was a painter, she painted portraits and landscapes, and those were the kinds of art he was exposed to as a youth. He wasn't particularly interested in traditional art. But when he first visited the Museum of Modern Art, he says the art there was a revelation to him, a feeling of “Where have you been all my life?“, and he knew what direction his art would take.
For the first few years, Riggs experimented with many kinds of media. During this experimental period, he made a sculpture for Brigham Young University campus, Windows of Heaven , a 30' high welded metal frame with stained glass inserts. The sculpture is almost classical in concept, based on gothic components Riggs drew from the gothic churches he loves, it's like a pipe organ against stained class windows. He built the piece horizontally, and says that when during installation the piece was hoisted by one corner, he was not certain the weld would hold that much weight, but to his great relief it did. One year later, he won an award at the state show, and his career as an artist took off.
In 1970, Riggs became a co-founder of Utah's North Mountain Artists Cooperative in Alpine. This cooperative was made up of mostly B.Y.U.-trained artists who were interested in Mormon art and who viewed their cooperative in ideal terms. The cooperative's original goal was to build an artists' association, art center, and art school in one area near Bull River. Frank Riggs believed the cooperative would be an excellent way to develop Mormon art: “If Mormon art ever develops anywhere, there's as good a chance as any it will develop here,“ he said. Although the idea was worthy, the cooperative was difficult to establish because the artists seldom worked closely together.
However, Riggs' personal career was successful, and he developed a market at various galleries, including a main gallery in Aspen, Colorado. Although several of the galleries Frank sold through fell victim to the art market slump in contemporary art, he has works scattered throughout the United States as well as in England, Japan, and Sweden.
Riggs' work is nonobjective, without a subject. As a Formalist, he is interested in shapes and design and says his pieces are not about anything, each exists for itself. For Riggs, “the triangle and circle hold great fascination for me, as they have done for others down through the centuries. My sculptures are . . . abstract spatial relationships between these pure forms. I create intuitively by adjusting these shapes until I feel right about their organization. I find a great amount of inspiration from the giant rock formations of the Southwest.“ He sketches ideas on paper, then makes small models, then often makes larger models, which are either sent to a foundry to be constructed or are constructed by himself hard, painstaking work, he admits.
While starting his art career, Riggs continued to teach part time and says that as a teacher, he liked to take simple objects out of their typical environment so the students could see them as designs instead of merely labeling them as known objects and never really examining the shapes and their relationships. He loves design, particularly three-dimensional design, and he enjoyed his years as a teacher. Periodically he runs into a former student who thanks Frank for what he taught, making Frank feel his teaching was successful.
It is not just in his teaching that Frank Riggs asks individuals to think and to re-experience the world through different eyes; it is also through his sculpture. His sculptures do not illustrate anything, although they can impart emotion to viewers who will “just go with the flow of the work.“ His titles are chosen after the work is finished; and although some are descriptive of how the sculpture makes him feel, others, like Tohatchi, were chosen because the word sounds like the piece looks.
Currently, Frank is working on wall pieces, bas reliefs, which he decided, after finishing a couple, are influenced by his memories of Radio City Music Hall's 20's Art Deco style. Like many contemporary artists, Riggs is looking back to a previous art movement and translating elements of that style through the medium of his experience into present-day, Postmodernist artworks. He says he is not sure where the pieces will take him, but he is enjoying the exploration, and some other people are apparently enjoying it too because he already has sold some of the reliefs.
Frank Riggs and his wife now consider Utah their home. They live in St. George, visiting cooler areas during some summer months, spending time with their three children and eight grandchildren, and hoping for a few great-grandchildren. Riggs says as long as he can still pick up his tools, he will continue to make sculpture.
Biography courtesy Springville Museum of Art.
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