Artist Joe Seigenthaler: 1959–2024

The artist Joseph Seigenthaler in his studio 



Artist William Joseph Seigenthaler passed away in March. Seigenthaler was an American sculptor and video artist who exhibited his figurative sculpture for over 30 years. His work is included in numerous private collections and in the permanent collections of the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Racine Art Museum, Racine, Wisconsin, the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan and Museo de Escultura Figurativa Internacional Contemporánea, Spain. Seigenthaler also was an influential teacher, having instructed countless art students at the University of Montana – Missoula, Harold Washington College in Chicago, and the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Seigenthaler leaves behind his wife of 31 years, painter Anne Gilbert, three daughters, Sarah, Elise and Chloé, his father, William Robert (Bob), siblings, Kate, Delia, Robert, Mary, and Dan and many friends. 

Seigenthaler was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1959. He earned a BFA in painting from the Memphis College of Art in 1981. Shortly after graduating, he freelanced sculpting life-sized wax figures for wax museums, primarily the Music Valley Wax Museum in Nashville and the Country Music Wax Museum in Tamworth, Australia. He studied ceramic art at the Appalachian Center for Craft in the mid 1980s, and in 1990, he received an MFA from Northern Illinois University. Seigenthaler collaborated on large design projects at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum of Natural History and the John G. Shedd Aquarium as well as other institutions. Outside of his work Seigenthaler became an expert at house renovation, completely rebuilding a family storefront. He also continued to be influenced by his hometown of Nashville, playing guitar and honoring his own love of music. 


Joseph Siegenthaler, Fly Dog


Betsy Nathan, owner of Pagoda Red and daughter of Ann Nathan, who showed Seigenthaler’s work in her gallery starting in the 1990s, shared with CGN, "I remember when Ann Nathan Gallery received Joe Seigenthaler’s work for his opening in 1996.  It was like a community of distorted bodies emerging to startle anyone who couldn’t see his brilliant craft that was obsessive, ceramic, surrealist and realist all at once. As my mom used to say, “If art doesn’t speak to you, it isn’t for you.’  Well, I suppose, a bald bust with strange and wide open bloodshot peering eyes spoke to her….and, then, went home with her.  This mysterious work remains looking out at all who enter the front door. It startles some and piques the curiosity of all –undeniably pushing boundaries, like great art does."


An opening for an exhibition of Seigenthaler’s head sculptures.


Seigenthaler's clay sculptures could be shocking when first encountered, and they left an impression. Seigenthaler was best known for his figurative works, creating realistic emotive faces and contorted bodies in various states, never failing to evoke a viewer's response. Seigenthaler also worked with computer animation loops of his creatures. 

Seigenthaler's family and friends had so many wonderful things to say about Joe the artist as well as Joe the person and friend. 

Bryan Schuetze, who met and became friends with Seigenthaler in 1987 at art school, shared at a memorial service this spring, "Joe was an incredible talent and inspired so many artists like myself. I had never met anyone like Joe. He was incredibly kind, generous, open minded, sensitive and very loving. NO one worked harder, and smarter than Joe. He was an expert at everything he wanted to do. This long list includes sculpting wax figures of country music stars in his early years, hand building incredibly powerful and visually arresting ceramic figurative sculpture. He told me he got tired of breathing clay dust and then he self taught himself and became an expert artist at digital media including 3D visualization, animation and sound."



Elise Seigenthaler, Joseph's middle daughter, shared with friends and family, "Joe poured his entire being into everything he tackled, never settling for less than 100%. Whether it was diving into a project and staying up until its completion or devouring a Costco-sized-box of peanut M&Ms in one sitting, Joe's commitment was stubborn and unwavering.

He had a discerning eye and a relentless pursuit for perfection, evident in his sculptures. Through painstaking attention to detail, he transformed clay into lifelike representations, flawlessly capturing even the minutest imperfections. Wrinkles, warts, cellulite, veins, and pores gave his work authenticity, reflecting his commitment to honesty and realism." 

Elise said that she and her sisters feel lucky to have had parents who could show them a beautiful example of what a loving, unconditional marriage looked like. Her father taught them the importance of following our passions, the value of hard work, and the strength that comes from a loving family.

Seigenthaler's passing was too soon. His art and spirit will surely continue for through his memorable works and his family and friends. 


Joe Seigenthaler, 1959–2024