An interesting aspect of life is that the longer we live it, the more we tend to see how our past choices and desires impacted our path to get to our current reality.
With more perspective, we can see what choices were linchpins, and which weren’t really that important. When Bigfork sculptor Ken Bjorge looks back, beyond his 30-year career here, he sees a key moment in Spokane, Washington in the 1980s.
Bjorge, 75, was working as a law professor at Gonzaga University, with a career in the legal field. He was also falling in love with being a sculptor, creating from clay and turning those creations into bronze statues.
Both art and the law require one’s full attention, Bjorge said, and he knew he had to make a decision.
“To dilute it by trying to juggle two careers, it’s kind of a daunting task,” Bjorge said. “It gave me an opportunity to make a decision. I had spent 25 years or so as a lawyer, and I got an opportunity to start over again in a sense.”
It was 1988, and Bjorge decided it was time to leave the law behind and pursue his love of sculpture. He moved to Bigfork and started working that summer. Now, 30 years later, Bjorge Gallery is a fixture in a village overflowing with artistic talent and potential.
The gallery hosts many artists of various mediums, and it also features Bjorge’s own bronze work, which has found prestigious homes across the country.
Some of his best-known work is the Heisman line, a series of massive statues he created for the University of Texas and University of Auburn to commemorate their Heisman Trophy winners. Those include Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson, and Cam Newton for Auburn University, and Earl Campbell for Texas.
All of these creations are 8-to-9 feet tall, roughly one-and-a-half the size of the people they are based on.
He’s also cast in bronze football coaches, including Jim Owens for the University of Washington and Jim Heisman of Auburn University. Montana State University coach Sonny Holland is memorialized in Bjorge bronze. He also created the statue to memorialize Savoy Jones in Dothan, Alabama, after the 15-year-old boy collapsed during basketball practice and later died.
And those are just some of the main human sculptures Bjorge has done, let alone all the animal statues he’s made and placed throughout the country. Those include elk, bison, mountain lions, bears, all kinds of domestic animals, and even pets.
Clients who have commissioned his work include California State University, D.A. Davidson, Westinghouse Corp., the Living Desert Wildlife Park in Palm Desert, California, and many more, including private individuals. One of his most-recent works, a larger-than-life bison sculpture, awaits the bronzing process at Kalispell Art Casting.
Bjorge is humble about the projects, and likes to talk about them in terms of opportunities and making the best of them.
“Out of Bigfork, Montana comes the opportunity to do these kinds of projects, and individually they’re all challenges of one sort or another,” Bjorge said.
He especially loves the commissioned memorials or busts he gets to create, because he then gets to work closely with the people who inspired them and the people who want that inspiration recorded in bronze.
Working in sculpture never lost its shine, Bjorge said, and he credits that to his decision, 30 years ago, to leave Spokane.
“That’s part of the juice that goes with doing different kinds of things,” Bjorge said. “It’s been a really fun change in life.”