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ArtPrize: Ellen Rogers’ “Intelligent Design”

"Intelligent Design" by Ellen Rogers

"Intelligent Design" by Ellen Rogers /Ellen Rogers

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What is that?  Is that art?  Did someone steal half of that piece?  How did he come up with that?  These are just a few questions that may go through the mind of an ArtPrize observer.  It is clear ArtPrize is quickly becoming a commonplace term across the country as artists from multitudinous places pour into Grand Rapids to display their art for the competition.  The variety and sheer number of pieces is simultaneously overwhelming and riveting.  As each piece is taken in the curiosity of the artist’s message and the story of the artist herself is nearly unavoidable.  “Intelligent Design,” a steel sculpture by Ellen Rogers, holds a message about the human condition and also mirrors the experiences and strengths of the artist herself.

Ellen Rogers, an ArtPrize contestant presently residing in Buffalo, New York, heard about ArtPrize through a professor at the University of Buffalo where she is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree.  Her piece, entitled “Intelligent Design,” is a ten and half foot tall steel giraffe with humanistic front legs, and a wheel in place of back legs.  Rogers began a model for the piece, but it sat unfinished without back legs for some time until she had somewhat of a eureka moment and it occurred to her “I want to put a wheel on this!”  Something she states she “couldn’t verbalize, but [knew] it was on track.”  The piece is made almost entirely of recycled steel and scrapyard donations; the wheel is from an old truck.

The humanistic legs attached to the giraffe body illustrates the fact that humans come from the same biological stock as the animals we observe in the world.  The piece symbolizes the human connection between man’s animalistic origins and man’s world of objects and the machines he creates that free and cage him simultaneously.  Rogers states of her piece: “Technology isn’t bad, but we have to worry about how we use it and how we desire it too.”

Ellen Rogers earned a Bachelor’s degree at Harvard University and then went on to receive a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Tufts Veterinary school.  Wildlife conservation is a great passion of Rogers’ and she cites it as the reason for attending Veterinary school.  In what Rogers describes as a “lucky break,” with the help of a Harvard professor she received a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to do research on primates in Uganda.  Living in Africa was extremely hard, extremely wonderful, and an incredibly eye-opening experience.  Rogers cites seeing the extensive poverty in the area as her most influential memory.  When asked if the message of the caging effect of man’s inventions in her art piece had anything to do with a call to go back to a more “primitive” lifestyle, Rogers decidedly states “No."  She explains, "[It is] not romantic to have children dying of security, food, water.”  Rogers states that if she “ruled the world” resources would be reduced, standard of living would be higher, and education and health would be readily available to all.  Rogers then cites her favorite memory of Africa as being at the end of a long day when the sun was setting, the animals would come out, and “you come home knowing you’re okay.”

In 1997 Rogers spent six months in South Africa being filmed, along with a fellow veterinarian from Mexico, for a television series entitled “The Great African Wildlife Rescue.”  The series aired on Animal Planet and Disney International Channel in 1999.  After spending time in gorgeous areas in Africa, Rogers cites New Zealand, Australia, and Europe as the top three places on her list to visit in the future.

Currently, Rogers is focused on her art.  With such a strong background in the sciences, a jump to art school may seem a bit surprising, but for Rogers “art has always been a tremendous love” since her childhood.  Her love for wildlife and desire for a more stable career led her to pursue her veterinary degree and research endeavors, but an illness forced her to take some time off chasing animals in Africa.  With the support of her husband, Rogers decided to pursue her love for art and earned a degree from Maine College of Art and then became the Artist in Residence at Paul Smith’s College for one year.  Rogers is now working on her Master of Fine Art degree at the University of Buffalo.  Her favorite art form is sculpture.  She loves working with steel and enjoys sculpting with wood as well.  Her “Intelligent Design” sculpture, which can be seen at Frederick Meijer Gardens, is a wonderful melding of her two loves: wildlife and art.


ArtPrize is most definitely a highly mesmerizing event that allows artists to showcase their work and members of the community to enjoy a visually stunning and thought provoking tour of Grand Rapids.  Ellen Rogers’ piece is one of over 1700 with the power to set the wheels turning in any observer’s mind.  In Ellen Rogers we see the effect of of the human mind’s ability to create art: through art human beings can be connected and through art human beings can find a way to be completely themselves.


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