At the age of 97, Lois Palmer Huth has thought about cutting back on her output as a sculptor, but the demand for her work keeps coming.
“I keep thinking, ‘This is the last order,'” said Huth during an interview earlier this month in her apartment in The Woodlands on the campus of Cantata Adult Life Services in Brookfield. “But I’ve had a number of requests since I’ve been here.”
Just a few feet away at a table stands a work in progress and past work is scattered throughout the apartment, both in the living area and her bedroom. Huth has lived at Cantata for the past year and a half after living with her son, Jonathan, in Brookfield for the previous six years.
On Sunday, May 31 at 1:30 p.m., Huth will be feted at an event that will kick off Cantata’s summer art series. Part of that day’s program, titled, “Through the Sculptor’s Hands,” will feature the dedication of one of Huth’s sculptures in the Woodlands’ garden.
“It’s basically thanks to Lois for donating this fabulous sculpture to us,” said Donna Bogosch, director of engagement at Cantata.
The piece, which depicts a boy feeding pigeons, is representative of Huth’s work — which focuses on children. It used to be a fixture at Huth’s summer home in northern Wisconsin, part of a log-cabin resort the Palmer family created from nothing (“We lived like pioneers for five years,” she said) during the 1930s.
“I figured I’m going to be here the rest of my life, and I can always see it out there [in the garden],” she said.
Huth figures she has sculpted more than 6,000 pieces during the past 55 years and her work has found homes in every state and even internationally.
Collectors of her work are a diverse lot. She said children’s folk singer Ella Jenkins and Las Vegan comic Shecky Greene have purchased sculptures. Three former Illinois governors — Dan Walker, Richard Ogilvie and James Thompson — have bought her work, as has Vincente Fox, the former president of Mexico.
But even before she was a sculptor, Huth was an artist. It runs in the family. Her father was artistic, said Huth, and so was her grandmother, whose beekeeper husband was attracted to Cicero by the vast, at least back then, clover fields around the family homestead near 28th Street and Austin Boulevard.
Huth lived in Cicero, in the home she grew up in, until she was 90. She attended Goodwin School and Morton East High School, just as her parents had. And she’s pursued art as long as she can remember.
“I used to draw pictures all the time and my father would encourage me because he was artistic too,” Huth said, adding she always knew art was her calling. “I knew it was never going to make me rich, unfortunately.”
After graduating from high school in 1934, Huth landed a scholarship to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied drawing and painting. One of her projects as a student, a copy of Renoir’s “Two Sisters (On the Terrace),” hangs in her living room at Cantata.
She remembered that the scholarship came in handy, because the tuition was expensive — $80 per term.
Huth met her husband, Kenneth Huth, in math class at Morton High School — “It’s where I learned to multiply,” she joked. The couple married in her grandmother’s living room in 1939.
Huth didn’t turn to sculpture until she was about 40, prodded after visiting the art department inside Marshall Field’s in Chicago, to participate in an art program the store was offering.
“There were people making things in clay,” Huth said. “And I thought, ‘I could do that.’ So I came home and told my husband I was going to buy a kiln.”
She set up the gas-powered kiln in the garage which she used as her sculpture studio all year round. In the winter, a kerosene heater kept the garage warm. There she started churning out her statues of children, anywhere from several inches tall to life-size, which she would sell at various juried art fairs.
Customers would also custom-order pieces from Huth for such things as retirements or for awards, such as the Pav YMCA’s annual Teeter Award.
Almost all of the works feature children, a subject she’s been fascinated with since her own student days.
“I like kids. Besides my own three boys, I took in 12 foster kids,” said Huth, who paused, then displayed her sharp sense of humor. “Not all at once! You think I’m crazy?”
She’s made so many sculptures that she abandoned her practice of titling every piece.
“I ran out of names after 6,000,” she said.
These days she’s not as prolific as she used to be. She can only work for an hour or so at a time, sitting on a stool at her work table.
“I’d like to quit, but my kids don’t want me to,” she said. “And I get new ideas all the time.”
Huth passed on her love of art to her son, Jonathan, a woodworker, and to two granddaughters.
“I’m still waiting to see if my great-grandson will be artistic, but he’s only 1-year-old right now,” Huth said.
More information on Cantata’s “Through the Sculptor’s Hands” program can be found at their website www.cantataseniorliving.org.