Dan Havel presents “Excuse My Scribbling, Please” at Redbud Gallery

In college, art teacher and practicing artist Dan Havel discovered a collection of vintage photographs, letters and newspaper clippings on an abandoned farm in Minnesota. Over 40 years later, these findings are the foundation of Havel’s newest art show, Excuse My Scribbling, Please.

Excuse My Scribbling, Please is a collection of intricate collages, a medium that involves manipulating pieces of different objects to create a new whole. Havel, who is known for his 2005 work Inversion House and other public sculptures with artist Dean Ruck, has always been interested in visual transformation. According to Havel, this exhibition was an attempt to explore “fractured but connected family histories.”

Havel often dreams about the stories of the people in the photographs; he expresses his own interpretation of them through the artwork.

“I don’t know who they are. I don’t know their past,” he said. “But I’m playing with their histories, fracturing them and shifting them — they’re still alive and moving.”

The exhibit’s name comes from a letter Havel found on the deserted farm in which a soldier writes to his mother and signs off with the phrase, “Excuse my scribbling, please.” 

“That’s exactly what I do,” Havel said. “I scribble.”

In Taking Measure, Havel uses old tape measures to frame portraits of children. North Wind’s centerpiece is an illustration, taken from a picture book, of a boy struggling to gather seeds as the wind blows. Cat teeth are attached to the collection’s titular piece, Excuse My Scribbling. 

I hope viewers walk out of there with a new understanding of what art can be made of.

— Dan Havel

“The pieces have titles that hint towards an idea, but they don’t illustrate something that is concrete,” Havel said. “It’s like a poem; everybody reads a poem differently.”

Havel encourages his audience to approach his pieces with the same imaginative wonder and internalize every detail.

“I hope viewers walk out of there with a new understanding of what art can be made of,” he said.

Viewers of the show, including senior Sophie Lesniak, English teacher Clay Guinn and Head of School Dan Alig, appreciated Havel’s ability to create cohesion from seemingly unrelated objects.

“It’s incredible how Mr. Havel can take discarded and abandoned moments from people’s lives, like marriage and birth certificates, and turn them into stories,” Lesniak said.

Havel’s project began with simple sketches on the photographs, which he then developed into complex collages, layering pieces to provide unique perspectives.

“He takes an object that you think you’ve seen a bunch of times and alters it in a way that all of a sudden makes it new,” Guinn said. 

This exhibition marks the first time Havel has produced a collection of artwork in the same style. He worked on it on and off for four years. Throughout the process, he faced both “mechanical” and “intuitive” challenges. 

“The toil is trying to make my inner vision comfortable with what I’ve created,” Havel said. “I have to find the right object and the right position and the right color.”

Now that he has completed this collection, Havel plans on returning to drawing and sketching. 

“I have to visualize,” Havel said. “I just have to make art.”

Excuse My Scribbling, Please is showing at Redbud Gallery through Oct. 26.