Norman K. Carlberg, sculptor who had been director of MICA's Rinehart School for nearly four decades, dies

Norman K. Carlberg, a noted sculptor who was director of the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Rinehart School of Sculpture for nearly four decades, died Nov. 11 from colon cancer at Gilchrist Center Towson.

The Roland Springs resident was 90.

Fred Lazarus IV of Roland Park, who was president of MICA from 1978 until his retirement in 2014, recalled Mr. Carlberg as “one of the core faculty… who played a critical role in shaping the MICA of today.”

“Norman was an individual of few words but had the same elegance and integrity as his art work,” Mr. Lazarus said. “He was a wonderfully sensitive and caring individual who was devoted to his students; and they never ceased to appreciate him as a teacher and mentor.”

Norman Kenneth Carlberg was born in Roseau, Minn., and raised in Brainerd, Minn. He was the son of Gustav Carlberg, a lumberjack, and his wife Alma Forsberg, a homemaker.

He graduated from high school in Brainerd and in 1946 worked in a local shipyard building railroad cars. In 1950 he enrolled at the Minneapolis School of Art, where he studied for a year before entering the Air Force.

Discharged in 1955, he attended the Minneapolis Summer School in Grand Marais, then entered Yale University School of Art. There, he studied with Josef Albers, an influential art educator who was head of the design department. Mr. Carlberg received a bachelor’s degree in 1958 and a master’s in 1961 in sculpture, both from Yale.

A Fulbright fellow, he taught from 1960 to 1961 at the Universidad Catolica in Santiago, Chile.

While there, he met and fell in love with Juanita Koch. They married in 1961.

That same year Mr. Carlberg came to Baltimore when he was hired by MICA president Eugene W. “Bud” Leake, a noted landscape painter, to be director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture.

After MICA purchased and renovated Mount Royal Station from the B&O Railroad in 1964, Mr. Carlberg transformed the Rinehart School from its original location in two Bolton Hill townhouses to more spacious accommodations in the former passenger station.

“As director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture, Norman made it into a contemporary sculpture program which attracted outstanding students from all over the country and world,” Mr. Lazarus said. “When MICA acquired the Mount Royal Station, he oversaw the design and construction of what became a fantastic studio space for his program.”

By the mid-1990s, the Rinehart School had been named one of the top five graduate schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Rinehart is a two-year master’s program which enrolled 10 students — five a year. It received 12 or more applications for every available position.

“I look for serious works that move you as a work of art,” Mr. Carlberg told The Baltimore Sun in 1996 in explaining how he selected his graduate students.

“The best thing is to see work that’s exciting, by someone who’s excited about being an artist. I’m not looking for fanaticism, but dedication, the intensity of having to do things,” he said. “The school has always reflected a diverse group of individuals, with no particular strong philosophy.”

“Norman was perfect for the situation,” said Rodney Carroll, a Pigtown sculptor who graduated in 1983 from Rinehart. “Previously, Rinehart was a figurative school, and he took it into the modern and abstract era. If you wanted to teach, you went to Yale, and if you wanted to be a sculptor, you went to MICA.”

He said Mr. Carlberg brought important visiting sculptors to Rinehart.

“He brought in big names, people we wanted to study with,” Mr. Carroll said. “We would give him names and he would call them up and invite them to come to MICA.”

“Norman created a rich and fertile environment and allowed us to go our own way, but he was a perfectionist and appreciated diligence,” he said. “He was supportive of people who worked hard.”

Mr. Carroll recalled his teacher’s modesty: “He was a mild-mannered Swede from Minnesota who never blew his own horn.”

Jim Adajian, a Hamilton resident and co-owner of Adajian & Nelson, a Hampden furniture restoration business, was a Rinehart student who graduated in 1979. He said Mr. Carlberg “had a lively intellect and a natural feel for a wide range of art, which made him exceptionally accepting of all of his students’ art work. He enjoyed having a lot of variation among his students.”

He could also be a matchmaker. “I met my wife, Maripat Neff, at MICA. We were in the same program and sculpture class and were introduced by Norman,” said Mark Sullivan, a Parkton landscaper and owner of a small farm. “We married in 1983.”

Mr. Carlberg’s own work earned him acclaim. In 1962, he won a Ford Foundation Award and four years later took the Museum Prize from the Baltimore Museum of Art. His work also received the Gretchen Hutzler Award in 1966 and 1967.

In 1969, he was presented the Dr. V.W. Barenburg Memorial Award and was named one of the top 12 artists in Maryland by Baltimore Magazine.

Both the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington purchased artwork from Mr. Carlberg for their permanent collections. After the death of Mr. Albers in 1975 the Guggenheim Museum in New York acquired his art collection — which included a piece of Mr. Carlberg’s.

His art can also be found in the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia, Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., the Art and Architectural Gallery at Yale, and the private collection of Australian architect Harry Seidler.

“I personally love the full range of Norman’s work: sculpture, graphic work and photography,” said Mr. Adajian. “Having remained friends with him since I graduated, I’ve been most deeply impressed by his consistently excellent art work, and that he was always making art, even during the last year of his life.

“His attitude toward art was open-minded, always questioning, sometimes very funny, but the focus was always on the art itself,” he added.

“[Norman Carlberg’s] art is classical in its simplicity of formal elements (shape, color, line), its tendency toward symmetry and the quiet purity of its presence,” wrote the late Baltimore Sun art critic John Dorsey in a 1996 appreciation.

Mr. Carlberg, who lived in a Lanvale Street rowhouse before moving to the Roland Springs neighborhood, retired in 1997.

He enjoyed reading, but the “focus of his life was his art work,” said his son, Kenneth Carlberg of Alexandria, Va.

A memorial service for Mr. Carlberg will be held at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, 110 W. Lafayette Ave., Bolton Hill.

In addition to his wife of 57 years and son, Mr. Carlberg is survived by a sister, Flora Mock of Hendersonville, Tenn.; and several nieces and nephews.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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