In a quiet, hillside neighborhood in southwest Rochester, there is a major art museum often visited by deer.
The Charles Gagnon Museum & Sculpture Garden, collecting work by the late Rochester-based sculptor, opened to the public last summer. Tours include galleries filled with Gagnon’s sculptures, his workshop, a display of his tools, drawings and models, a library of art books, and an outdoor sculpture garden that, in the middle of a snowy winter, is marked by footprints of deer.
“Chuck fell in love with the fact it’s so sculptured, with the rolling hills,” said Arlyn Gagnon, the artist’s widow, as she looked out over the garden from her kitchen window.
The museum occupies the Gagnon residence, which was built in the late 1980s. “It took two years to design and two and a half years to build,” Arlyn Gagnon said. But from the day the Gagnons moved in, this was the place where Chuck Gagnon both lived and created.
His most famous local pieces include the Peace Plaza fountain in downtown Rochester, and the statue of St. Francis at Mayo Clinic’s Saint Marys Hospital. Gagnon’s bronze sculptures, however, are to be found around the world. In fact, another, slightly taller, peace fountain sculpture stands in Germany.
Obviously, Gagnon, who died in 2012, left a legacy. He also left behind enough models, materials and other ephemera to make for numerous displays. In fact, he planned long ago on having his life, career and work displayed in his own museum.
Arlyn Gagnon likes to show visitors two large wooden trunks that Gagnon packed and sealed decades ago before the couple moved back to the United States from Italy. The boxes had been left in storage unpacked. After he died, Arlyn pried them open. In them, she found a note. “He had written that these sculptures are to be saved for the museum,” Arlyn said.
Elsewhere in the museum is the story of the bust of Conrad Hilton Gagnon did for Mayo Clinic’s Hilton Building, the only horse sculpture Gagnon ever did (“He was allergic to horses,” Arlyn said), the original doves for the Rochester peace fountain (no two of the doves are alike), a piece known as “Praying Hands,” and dozens of other works, large and small.
One gallery overlooks Gagnon’s work studio, with its 35-foot-tall ceiling. In the studio, visitors can see how Gagnon worked with wax models, modifying the early castings of his pieces before taking them to a New York foundry for final casting.
“Because we’re educational, I want people to see the different stages of sculpture,” Arlyn Gagnon said.
Alongside Gagnon’s work, there is currently a display of drawings by Jacques Lipchitz, a French-Jewish artist who escaped France during the Nazi occupation in World War II. When he left France, Lipchitz took along a portfolio of his work — including the drawings he later gave to Gagnon and that are now on display at the museum.
Because the museum is located in the Gagnon home, surrounded by a residential neighborhood and with birds, wild turkeys — and deer — strolling through the sculpture garden, there is a serenity about the place. There is no large identification sign, no designated parking lot, and the entry gate sticks in cold weather.
It is at once private and secluded, yet also open to the public. Not everyone would willingly open their residence to strangers. But Arlyn Gagnon is devoted to displaying her husband’s work in his adopted hometown.
“It’s time to give back,” she said, “and this is a good thing to do.”