Remembering Elden Tefft: University of Kansas Sculpture and Friend of Paraguay

Earlier this month Elden Tefft died at the age of 95. Elden retired from the University of Kansas in 1990 but was an active sculptor until his death working with his son Kim in their studio close to Lawrence.

Elden made at least 3 trips to Paraguay supported in part by Kansas-Paraguay Partners. In 1984 he traveled to Asuncion to conduct a needs assessment for a bronze foundry. He met noted Paraguayan sculptor Hermann Guggiari. As his obituary (read his obituary at this link (http://obituaries.ljworld.com/obituaries/ljworld/obituary.aspx?n=elden-cecil-tefft&pid=174196559&fhid=24990) states when Elden started out bronze sculpture was considered a craft since the work had to be finished in a foundry at another location. Elden took it upon him self to help institutions construct their own foundries. He did that at the University of Kansas and the Catholic University of Asuncion among many other institutions around the world.

Elden returned to Paraguay in 1988 with his assistant Gerald Miller. They spent 7 weeks working with Hermann Guggiari constructing a metal casting foundry at the School of Sculpture/Atheneum.

In 1989 Elden returned to Paraguay to teach a 3-week class in Guggiari’s workshop. Elden taught his signature lost wax method. One of his students was Paraguayan sculpture Gustavo Beckelmann who visited Kansas in 2008 to be part of the exhibit of Paraguayan art at the Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University. I hosted Gustavo in Lawrence for a couple of days and he mentioned how influential Elden Tefft was in his development as a sculpture. Gustavo and Elden were able to get together for a short visit. Gustavo told Elden about his artistic influence and showed him some of this work.

Gustavo wrote the following wonderful tribute to Elden upon hearing of his death.

Conocí a Elden Tefft en 1989 en el taller del escultor paraguayo Hermann Guggiari. él vino al Paraguay a dar un curso de fundición en bronce a la cera perdida, el año anterior había estado acá, para diseñar y construir los hornos y utensilios necesarios para esa técnica.

Elden era elegante, así como elegante era su manera de trabajar. Sólo dejaba de lado su saco y vestía un delantal, todavía con la corbata puesta, tanto para modelar o hacer un molde o fundir bronce, lo único diferente es que para la fundición el delantal era de cuero y lo acompañaba con una delicada gorra confeccionada con una hoja de diario.

Su aproximación a la cera perdida era elegante, esta es una ténica muy difícil y él conseguía con extremado trabajo reducir al mínimo las posibilidades de que la pieza tuviera problemas.

Lo volví a ver en Lawrence en 2008, ya con graves problemas de salud, pero tuvo la picardía de saludarme con un ejemplar del suplemento cultural de un diario, en que en primera página estaban él y una alumna en aquél famoso curso de fundición.

Elden y sus enseñanzas contribuyeron en gran medida a lo que es hoy mi vida y mi arte, así como me imagino que habrá sido con innumerables otros que pasaron por su cátedra. Eso hace que la memoria sea dulce y menos dolorosa. Hasta siempre Elden, maestro!

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