Winter 2012/13
Cameron Stalheim was waiting for a call as his phone began
to flash “low battery.” So, he shut it off, even though the call
he expected was important. He’d been waiting for weeks,
which had grown into months, and so the Sioux Falls, S.D.
native figured he would be fine without it for another
couple of hours.
Stalheim graduated from the University of South Dakota’s
College of Fine Arts in 2010 with a degree in sculpture. When
his alma mater issued a 2011 national call for sculptors, he
answered it. Sure, he knew he was fresh out of school, and sure,
he knew he was facing competition from artists around the globe,
many who had completed dozens of commissioned works.
But Stalheim’s passion drives his life. He knew that while
the competition might be strong, he had a unique vision. His
sculpture would show the prairie carnivore with its face raised,
mouth open in a howl. Stalheim’s vision evoked a coyote filled
with confidence. The sculptor and his art reflected one another.
His entry into the coyote sculpture competition was well-
received. In fact, among the 36 artists who had submitted
work, he finished among the final six. Stalheim had crafted a
maquette—the art-world term for a small-scale version—
that was on display on campus while students voted on the
final six entries. Yet he awaited the final verdict as the decision-
making continued.
That night when he got home, he plugged in his phone.
“It was so unlikely that during those few hours they would
have called,” said Stalheim. “So I plugged in my phone and sure
enough, I had a message.”
It was the one.
The message, from College of Fine Arts Dean Larry Schou,
would not only change Stalheim’s life, but the USD campus
would reflect his artistic vision, in bronze, forever.
“I immediately called all my family,” said Stalheim. “It was
an amazing, emotional moment, one I will never forget.”
Once he received the call, another voyage began.
“It took a little while, but then it hit me, the seriousness
of the selection, what it really meant,” said Stalheim. “Really,
it flipped a switch in me, to professional mode. There was so
much more to do, so much to consider. It struck me that my
work would not only be on campus, but it’d be for a long, long
time. That’s very intimidating. It’s really scary and I had my
share of moments where I felt the weight of the reality.”
Creative souls carry self-doubt. Stalheim’s felt like tons of
bronze at times, but his professional training at USD, the never-
fading support of family and friends and his own passionate
devotion to art all share credit for propelling him onward to the
completion and installation of his bronze sculpture, “Legacy.”
Born into Creativity
Stalheim said growing up in a creative home shaped him.
His mother, Denise Cameron Nelson ’83, had long shown an
affinity for the creative, working as an art teacher for many
years, including during her son’s toddlerhood.
“Art and creativity were in the air my whole life,” he said.
“We had a creative house, and I would help her set things up
or play with her materials. She’s really the one who pushed me,
who never stopped telling me to follow my dreams.”
At Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, S.D., Stalheim did
just that, painting, sculpting and taking part in plays. His sister,
Andrea (Stalheim) Aukerman ’06, said one of his works in high
school was a “big deal” and remains on the walls there to this
day. “He did a mural and while he might not look at it as his
best work, at the time, it was pretty significant,” Aukerman said.
“I think it was a glimpse of what was to come, an indicator of
his capability.”
An Education Takes Shape
Rather than sculpture, Stalheim originally focused on
prosthetic make-up, within the theatrical make-up major, upon
his arrival at USD. He crafted prosthetics and special effects for
stage productions while continuing a double major in art. But
by the time he took Chris Meyer’s sculpture class, something
clicked and a change began.
“He’s really who inspired me, and I made the transition, but
maintained my scholarship,” said Stalheim. “The Department of
Theatre was disappointed when I changed directions, but I did
remain and contributed as much as I could. But they wouldn’t
stop me; they wanted me to follow my passion.”
Meyer ’00, professor of art and sculpture at USD, said he
saw the skill and ability in Stalheim. “Sculpture is an unlimited
creative genre, and Cameron certainly has a passion for three
dimensions,” he said.
Stalheim garnered a number of accolades during his years
at USD. He received honorable mention for work in the
Wilbur Stilwell Annual Juried Exhibition in 2007, was named
“Sculpture Bad Ass” in the same show in 2008 and landed the
“Muse Prize” for the Stilwell Exhibitions in both 2008 and
2009. In 2010, Stalheim’s work was named Graduate Students’
Choice and Dean’s Choice in the Stilwell Exhibition, where he
also received another honorable mention.
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