Childhood & Early Life
Don Gummer was born Donald Gummer, on December 12, 1946, in Louisville, Kentucky, to Dorothy and William Adolph Gummer. He was raised in a big family with five siblings, all brothers. Soon after he was born, the family moved to Indiana, where Don spent most of his growing up years.
Despite his family having no history in art, Don was inclined towards building artistic projects ever since he was a kid. He used to assemble model airplanes, tree houses and forts in his free time. In Indiana, his family lived in a neighbourhood which was largely under construction and many new houses were being built. Don liked to play in the under construction buildings and marvel at their architecture.
By the early 1960s, during his early teen years, he began drawing pictures that gave a sign of his natural talent towards sculpting. He drew a house from his imagination which was set against a curvy tree and had a ladder and a staircase with a window. He enjoyed doing that quite a lot and this early interest kept building inside him.
He completed his high school graduation from the Ben Davis High School in 1964. By then, he had mostly made up his mind about studying design and art. Following his high school graduation, he enrolled into the Herron School of Art, in Indiana, and completed his course in design and art in 1966.
In 1966, Don Gummer moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to further his studies and enrolled into a fine arts course at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, completing his studies in 1970. He then enrolled into the Yale School of Arts, from where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, and later a master’s degree. At the Yale University, he studied with another popular abstract artist and sculptor David von Schlegell.
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By the late 1960s, he had begun building sculptures, with constructivist sensibilities. In 1969, he built a scripture called ‘Separation’, which was a seminal work and exhibited his wide areas of talent even before he graduated from Yale. His artwork ‘Separation’ was seminal in a way that it provided Don with a style that he would utilize to build most of his most popular artworks around that time.
He opened his own studio and using the organic/geometric themes he used to build ‘Separation’, he began building earthworks such as ‘Lake’. He toyed around with the themes of ‘”formless” earth’ and used geometric grids to express his surreal ideas through his artworks.
Following his graduation from the Yale University, Don Gummer moved to the New York City, to further his artistic career. He moved to the city in 1973, and in the same year, he had his first solo exhibition at 112 Green Street.
In 1974, he received his first major commission, which was to exhibit a solo show at Artists Space, New York. It was there that he built ‘Hidden Clues’, which Don claims to be one of his most ambitious installations till date. It is a massive, experimental, room sized structure, which was built from paper, wood and sheetrock.
The greatest achievement of ‘Hidden Clues’ was justifying its name. From a distance, the artwork looked minimalistic, but upon closer viewing, it got more complex. It was considered a monumental achievement and is still considered to be one of Don’s most brilliant masterpieces. It dealt with the themes of time and space and while Don’s most celebrated sculptures also dealt with same themes, ‘Hidden Clues’ remained his top most celebrated work.
Over the next few years, Don Gummer carried on working in his studio and built several large installations. However, during most of the 1970s, during the first decade of his professional career, he focused on table top and wall mounted sculptures. Later in the decade, he had two more solo exhibitions, along with one group exhibition called ‘Eight Sculptors’, which was organized at the Albright Knox Gallery, in Buffalo.
Along with that, he also worked briefly as a union carpenter at the Olympic Tower in Manhattan from 1973 to 1975.
Starting from the 1980s, his approach to art saw a major shift. The dominant components in his work became the planes that were composed of several vertical and horizontal lines. In that, he was inspired by the artworks of artists such as Richard Lohse and Max Bill.
However, while Max and Richard’s artworks lacks a sense of motion, Don’s artworks focused on evoking motion as he built the slatted forms that resembled ladders. Upon closer inspection, the illusion of climbing down the ladder, or descending, and sometimes moving sideways was evident, which gave Don’s art a distinct edge over his contemporaries.
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In 1980s, his fame crossed the city’s borders and he had his first solo exhibition outside New York when he organized an exhibition of his work in Ohio, at The Akron Art Museum. Later in the decade, he also held a successful solo exhibition of his work in his hometown of Indiana.
In 1993, Don Gummer had yet another major breakthrough when he was commissioned to install a permanent structure at the Kitakyushu International Center, in Japan. The artwork titled ‘Planes of Nature’ is also known among his most celebrated works.
In the 1980s, he had a number of group exhibitions, titled ‘Instruction Drawings’, ‘A Sculpture on the Wall’ and ‘The Kentuckians’ in different parts of the USA. In 1993, he was a part of group exhibition which took place at the Yale University, which was held at the university’s Art Gallery.
Further in 2005, he had a successful group exhibition at the Galleria d’Arte Benucci, in Rome, Italy. Additionally, his public collections are placed at Louisiana Museum, the Butter Institute of American Art Youngstone and Chemical Bank, New York City, along with many other places around the country.
Additionally, throughout his illustrious career as a sculptor, he has been honoured with awards such as the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant and the National Endowment of the Arts.
Don also happens to be a very active philanthropist and donates generously to many educational institutions and art organizations, such as Opus School in Harlem and the Silver Mountain Arts Foundation.
He happens to be one of the richest and the most celebrated American sculptors and throughout his career, he has amassed a fortune worth $173 million, as of December 2020.
Don Gummer married Peggy Lucas in the early 1970s, but the marriage did not last and the couple got divorced a few years later.
Hollywood actress Meryl Streep was grieving the loss of her boyfriend in 1978, when she met Don through her brother, who was a friend of Don’s. Meryl was also struggling financially and had no place to live. Don offered her his place as he was travelling around that time.
They clicked almost immediately and the couple began living together, and in the same year, they got married.
After their marriage in 1978, the couple had four children together. All their children are currently working in arts & entertainment field.
Meryl Streep walks on the red carpets of award shows and her film premieres with Don, who in turn, has attained a celebrity status.