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A 15-meter werewolf statue is being built for Naper Settlement

Local artists Paul Kuhn and Lucas Salvesen say they paint with steel. They build their sculptures piece by piece, framing them in large pieces and shading them with smaller pieces. Sometimes the pair conduct experiments. Sometimes they delete it and start over.

The metalwork is incredibly fluid and just what the Naper Settlement needed to add a unique, almost supernatural addition to this year’s usual fall events.

The history museum’s annual All Hallows Eve and Howlin’ at the Moon events will feature a creepy centerpiece for the first time: a 50-foot-tall werewolf art installation, courtesy of Kuhn and Salvesen. Although it’s not quite finished yet, the duo promises the track will be ready in time for All Hallows on October 20-21 and Howlin’ on October 27-28.

By then, artists will be at the drawing board.

“We know we have long days and nights ahead of us, but these are fun long days and nights,” Kuhn said. “It’s physically exhausting, (but) you have to remind yourself, wow, we’re building a werewolf right now. This is great.”

A new art installation for Naper Settlement’s October dinners has been in the works for almost a year. In late 2022, the museum approached Kuhn with the idea, and back-and-forth discussions ensued over the possibilities. A few months later, in March, a formal partnership was formed.

Parameters: A work commissioned by the Naperville Heritage Association, with grant support from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, for both the family-favorite festival All Hallows Eve and its 21+ companion events, Howlin’ at the Moon. Kuhn and Salvesen seized this opportunity.

To them, the scarier the art, the better.

“You can get away with scary things, things that aren’t perfect, things that aren’t bulkier, or things that aren’t less symmetrical,” Salvesen said. “Some of the textures are a lot of fun to make. It’s fun to do bumpy, horny skin. It’s harder to get things done right.”

“Doing something scary and disgusting lends itself to being a more liberating experience,” Kuhn added. “It’s fun and rewarding to let loose and say, this should be a little more up and down, or this or that.”

Unlimited, they like it. This also applies to their processes.

Naperville artist Lucas Salvesen stands next to the frame of the 50-foot werewolf art installation he and longtime friend Paul Kuhn created for Naper Settlement's annual fall events All Hallows Eve and Howlin' at the Moon.

According to Kuhn and Salvesen, sculpting begins with a sketch on paper. But this is the rough plan. The duo likes to leave final decisions to expert hands while working.

“We have a design, but we’re not really interested in it,” Kuhn said. “We want to be thinking about it but not being completely controlled by it, so improvisation can happen. Bending, welding and shaping steel in this style is absolutely the essence of these projects. It starts with one piece. … It’s an ongoing process where you bend, weld, and step back and check if it looks right.”

His DIY, casual style is evident in his workspaces. Located on Kuhn’s family property in Naperville, the workshop is a maze of upcycled materials and inventions.

This includes the handmade mini crane that Kuhn and Salvesen use to move heavy materials and project pieces around. Last week it was hanging just above a crouching werewolf. It’s a frame made up of more than a thousand steel pieces welded together so far. Next will be a layer of rubber, foam and paint. “Detail makers,” Salvesen said.

As Naperville artists Paul Kuhn and Lucas Salvesen sculpt a 50-foot-tall werewolf art installation for the Naper Settlement's fall events this year, the duo said they hope to make the piece as detailed as it is large.  They imagine welding small skulls around the creature's frame and building a miniature graveyard scene somewhere at its base.

Kuhn and Salvesen began work on the Naper Settlement commission in early September. The artists said their working relationships helped their projects be completed quickly, even though they were given only a short period of two months to accomplish the 15-foot feat.

“Really, it’s a great partnership when it comes to art, and a big part of these sculptures that we make are us,” Kuhn said. “I am so grateful to this man.”

Kuhn and Salvesen, of Naperville, attended the same middle school and high school, but their paths did not cross. Kuhn, 44, was several grades above the 41-year-old Salvesen. The two only became friends in their mid-to-late 20s, after Kuhn earned her BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and Salvesen started her own flooring. business.

Their path to sculpting also took some time. When they first connected, Kuhn and Salvesen were mostly painting. Or, Kuhn said, they were working on “really weird art projects.” When they discovered the statue, the vehicle became stuck.

Naperville artists Lucas Salvesen (left) and Paul Kuhn rearrange equipment in Kuhn's backyard studio in Naperville.

These days, Kuhn and Salvesen are on a one-year term for the commission. They found particular success in the music business, creating large sculptures for festivals such as the North Coast Music Festival in Chicago, Suwannee Hulaween in Florida, and Electric Forest in Michigan. However, there is no substitute for doing something for the home.

“A lot of our stuff travels around the country, which is great, but there’s an extra special touch to the hometown project,” said Kuhn, whose local work includes: “The Tragedy of Victory” The statue dedicated to the train crash at the Naperville Metra station in 1946 that killed 45 people and “Ladder of Light” pays tribute to city firefighters.

Yet the Naper Settlement’s commission is particularly personal.

Kuhn and Salvesen recall visiting the Naper Settlement as children. School trips, family trips; This is where Kuhn first tried beef jerky. They said they were pleased to be able to create a new memory maker for the history museum campus.

“You know when you’re a kid and you go somewhere for a school trip, you never think that one day you’re going to create a werewolf for them?” said Kuhn, smiling. “This is very rewarding.”

Naperville artist Paul Kuhn restores a 18-foot statue in his backyard.  Track name

Once completed, Kuhn and Salvesen’s werewolf will be a permanent addition to All Hallows Eve and Howlin’ at the Moon each October. Kuhn sees the beginning of a local tradition with the installation.

“When people come back each year, they will find new details or reminisce,” he said. “The fact that people are excited about the werewolf they saw last year increases the love for the sculptures, which is really fun to see as an artist. “I think this is beautiful.”

As beautiful as a werewolf could be.

tkenny@chicagotribune.com

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