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Academics Fine Arts

‘Wayfarer’ influenced by shapes of boats, sails, kites and an artist’s travel to the North Shore and beyond

Cam Zebrun moved to Minnesota in 1991 to work at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Not long after, he discovered a place that would shape his own art and give him direction that has lasted more than three decades.

It will be on display in “Wayfarer,” the first visual arts exhibition of the 2023-24 season, opening September 5 at the Alice R. Rogers and Target Galleries in the St. John’s Art Building.

Zebrun, who obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Cleveland Institute of Art and a master’s from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, hoped to become a printmaker when he and his wife first moved to Chicago.

“I didn’t have any printmaking facilities, so I decided to start painting,” Zebrun said. “I started building wall sculpture that I painted with oils. The shapes I was making were heavily influenced by boats, sails and kites … Some might have the shape of a cresting wave, and they were all based in nautical architecture.”

Imagine the revelation then when he first saw the North Shore region of Lake Superior.

“I was totally taken by the waterfalls and the lake itself,” he said. “The forests and the river courses all connected and inspired me. This incredibly remote, beautiful place was only a couple of hours from my doorstep.”

He tried painting realistic flat images, found he wasn’t very good at it, and went back to building shapes and abstracts. Using inspiration from his travels, the rest has become history as Zebrun has gone on to a career that includes four major grant awards and two artist residencies in the past 18 years and is represented in many corporate and private art collections He retired in 2017 as director of program services at the Walker, but he’s had a dozen solo exhibitions of his work in the past decade.

Wayfarer, which reflects his recent trips to the Pacific Northwest, the Canadian Rocky Mountains and, of course, the North Shore, runs through October 14 and features wall-oriented and fully three-dimensional sculpture. Zebrun also will display collages, including 3D works in shadow boxes that he made during a residency at the Grand Marais Artist Colony in 2021.

“I’m also influenced by maps – topography and cartology – and, since I’ve completed this most recent travel, I’ve discovered some shapes can have more than one meaning,” Zebrun said. “What might be the edge of a waterfall also could be the edge of a mountain ridge or the curve of a kayak. Some of the depths of the sculpture, for me, are like a cauldron of a North Shore river, or an architectural model that describes topography of the land. There are rivers leading into the North Shore where you get these whirls and ripples where the water has edged out the stone.”

One of his newer pieces, “Mount Hood,” literally has a map grafted onto one end of the structure.

“That was new this year,” Zebrun said. “I had an amazing trip to Oregon and, when I got back, I had all this inspiration. I discovered some maps online of the mountains in the Cascade Range. They’re beautiful documents and I started adding that to the artwork. My collage work that I’ll be showing also includes maps of the Cascade Mountain Range.”

He uses computer-aided design to create a template for each work, then creates them in his basement woodshop. He says he is exploring the ideas of geological time and its effects on the land as well as humans’ need to catalog, interrupt and conquer our environment. This is achieved by recording the intimate patterns and forces that nature exerts on the environment – the textures, rhythms, symmetry and asymmetry that determine the resulting abstract forms.

“Often people are surprised at the various aspects of my work,” Zebrun said. “They may see the sculpture more often than the collages, but I spend as much time on collage as I do sculpture. They’re both integral to me. For Wayfarer, I want to continue that exploration of both collage and sculpture.”

Zebrun will be on campus for a reception and artist’s talk from 5-7 p.m. September 21 at the SJU Art Building.


“Blade” is an oil, wood and watercolor sculpture Zebrun made in 2022.

Beacon II by Cam Zebrun

Beacon II is an example of the collage work of Cam Zebrun. The piece is 28 inches in height and 36 inches in width and features a variety of photo images.

Cam Zebrun

Cam Zebrun served as director of program services at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis before his retirement in 2017.


“Whorl” is an oil, wood and watercolor sculpture by Zebrun.