Charles Eugene Gagnon was born on February 24, 1934, to Eugene and Inez Gagnon in Minneapolis, MN. From an early age, Chuck expressed a love for art, often drawing and carving soap, wood, clay, and even potatoes. Also, Chuck competitively played golf, baseball, and speed skated. There was a tradition in his family that all boys must go to De La Salle High School. In order to attend, Chuck created his own job to dive into the ponds at golf courses and retrieve golf balls to help pay for his education. After graduating high school in 1952, Chuck joined the Navy, and later earned his Master’s (1960) degree from the University of Minnesota. In 1957 through 1958, he was one of ten US students chosen to teach in military-dependent schools in Germany.


At the start of his career, Chuck was offered by Dr. and Mrs. Rome to use their carriage house to be his first studio. He worked mainly with figurative sculpture, focusing on the poise and grace of dancers at the time. Sculptures such as the Dancer Stretching and Dancer at Rest emphasize detail of how a dancer carries their body. Chuck exhibited his first showing of these figurative sculptures in Dr. and Mrs. Hill’s yard. The concentration and use of simple bases can be seen in the sculptures found on the Italian crates made during the Gagnons’ time in Tuscany after they were married in 1964. Later, in the 1960’s, Chuck completed a commission to create Saint Francis and the Birds, which expanded his work to incorporate doves. The sculpture connects the human and nature relationship that Saint Francis characterized through his life as a patron of nature.


Advancing into his career, Chuck received a commission to create a sculpture in gratitude for an exceptional education at Kenyon College. The Renaissance Man and Woman were to inspire the future graduates to enlighten themselves in scholarship and equality and was installed in 1973. The latter part of this decade began the commissioning of portraits for personal and public display. The Mrs. M and Young Boy were commissioned for individual collections. Mayo Clinic commissioned the bust of Conrad N. Hilton for placement in the lobby of the Hilton Building upon its completion. The one hundred and twenty-seven distributors of Anderson Windows commissioned a bust of the founder Fred C. Andersen for corporate headquarters in Bayport, Minnesota. While working on his sculpture, Chuck was acknowledged in the Documentary of International Biography, Who’s Who in American Art, Who’s Who in the Midwest, and Who’s Who in America.


Continuing his career, Chuck began to implement the rhythm of roots into his sculpture. As seen in Metamorphosis, roots are drawn on to the bronze to show life reaching upwards to expand. Similarly, the movement of roots was used to show the growth of life in the Celebration/Emergence of Life. Chuck was awarded the Rochester Mayor’s Gold Medal of Honor for Artistic and Cultural Achievement and was honored by having his sculpture in the Vatican Art Collection in Rome. At the end of this decade, Chuck received a commission from the city of Rochester to enlarge his Peace Fountain for a focal point of downtown. The Peace Fountain was unveiled in the Peace Plaza in 1989 during Rochesterfest.


Maintaining his career, Chuck invoked doves to create the uplifting tones of his pieces. In the Spirit of Peace, the figure releases doves upward showing an exhilarated expression. A family from Texas commissioned Chuck to create the Guardian Angel as a family legacy. It is seen by religious scriptures as a symbol of protection from malicious forces. In Smokescreen, the dove sits upon the encompassing smoke as a light beyond the darkness. The Peace Fountain was mentioned in the United Nations Educational Science and Cultural Organization’s UNESCO Courier and was on the cover of a publication in Bonn, Germany. Chuck was also honored by the Smithsonian Institution and Garden Club of America.


Progressing towards the end of his career, Chuck received a commission to create an enlarged Peace Fountain for a German company’s international headquarters. The fountain was to inspire peace in future global generations. Chuck’s personal project, the String Quartet, was inspired by years of concerts and performances and the musicians are captured playing classical water music. Chuck’s final commission was for the Flying Hawk. The hawk realizes the spirit of flight as the sculpture soars upward. The Flying Hawk was installed on St. John Island of the US Virgin Islands. Today, Chuck’s sculptures are a part of private and public collections across the United States and worldwide.

Charles E. Gagnon Museum & Sculpture Garden

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Open for Scheduled Tours Wednesday - Saturday, 10 - 11:30 a.m. 2 - 3:30 p.m. & Sunday 2 - 3:30 p.m. 

By online registration only | Closed on Major Holidays | Garden open May 15 - October 15

2500 4th Street SW Rochester, MN 55902 | (507) 282-5202

Charles E. Gagnon Museum & Sculpture Garden is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible as allowable by law. © 2020

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