There is a statue above the Shingle Creek Pond in Webber Park called The Camden Lumberman. This bronze six-foot, six-inch bronze sculpture was commissioned to commemorate the importance of lumbering in the northern part of Minneapolis. The lumber worker wears work clothes with his left leg resting on a rock. He originally held an axe (missing for a while) in his right hand across his shoulder. The sculpture was designed and created by Rodger Brodin, a graduate of Henry High School in 1958, who was inspired by his grandfather, Peter Brodin, a Swedish immigrant coming to Camden of North Minneapolis from a family which had been loggers for centuries.
Rodger’s grandfather was one of hundreds of young men from Scandinavia, from Sweden, Norway and Finland, who crossed the ocean to work in the lumber industry. This 19-year-old left Varmland, Sweden for Minneapolis in 1889 having heard stories of vast forests of white pine trees and many jobs. He was hired as a sawmill worker by the C. A. Smith Lumber Company of which buildings at 44th and Lyndale Avenue North have recently been designated as a historic site. The rooming house Peter stayed in is the white house located on the corner of 40th and Emerson Avenue North. By 1880 Minneapolis had 234 sawmills, becoming the world’s leading lumber market. The supply of wood began running out, sawmills began shutting down with the last Minneapolis lumber mill closing in 1921, and Rodger’s grandfather had by then moved to Dassell, Minnesota.
The Brodin family, headed by parents Ethel (Coleman) and John Sr. (son of Peter), moved to 38th and Sheridan in Camden in 1955. All four siblings graduated from Henry High, Rodger in 1958, John in 1960, Neil in 1964 and Becky in 1969. Brother Neil tells of his brother being especially artistic as a child, a sign of things to come.
Rodger Brodin is best known for his military, law enforcement, fire/rescue memorials and his proposal to add a nurse statue to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. He was a Marine for seven years and served in Vietnam. Upon returning to civilian life, he enrolled at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, became friends of an instructor who artistically inspired him, started playing with clay, and withdrew from college to study on his own. He became well-known for his works using the “lost wax” method of hot bronze sculpture casting. Monument to the Living, dedicated in 1982 on the Minnesota Capitol grounds, is the first memorial in the nation to Vietnam Veterans. Brodin told a reporter of the Minneapolis Star in the July 30, 1981 issue, “I wanted to do a memorial to the living veterans…There was so much said about the dead. Nothing much was said about the veteran who came home, whole in body, but who was having some trouble in his mind.”
Rodger, with his brothers John and Neil, who were Minneapolis police officers and also veterans, eventually incorporated as R.M. Brodin Studios at 3800 Girard in Camden. They created the “Law Enforcement Recognition Program.” According to Neil, “We created and sold thousands of miniature statues of G-man to benefit the F.B.I. special agents.” Visitors to the Target Center in Minneapolis see the life-size statue of Minnesota native and former NBA Laker great George Miken that Neil Brodin created. Neil refers to himself as an understudy of Rodger. The Brodin Studios under the leadership of the brothers were commissioned work in 24 states. John passed away in 2012. Neil is retired.
Eighteen of Rodger Brodin’s sculptures stand in parks and buildings in the Twin Cities area. You may have seen some of his artistry including: the statue of Vice President Hubert Humphrey outside Minneapolis City Hall; the statue of Van White, the first African American councilman, inside Minneapolis City Hall; The Protector in Anoka, a tribute to that city’s police officers; The Price of Freedom, a statue of three service men located in the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center; and The Sky Solder located on the second floor of the Veteran’s Service Building. Several sculptures can be found throughout the United States.
The Lumberman statue in Webber Park was commissioned by the Camden Area Community Concerns Council and partly funded by a grant from the State of Minnesota and the City of Minneapolis. Community members and former residents pitched in with money and community service.
Rodger was 14 when his grandfather died. Thus, he used memories and photos to create Peter’s image, his brother Neil’s face, his brother John’s body, and his own hands. The statue was dedicated on July 21, 1990. Nine-inch miniatures of the sculpture were sold to finance installation; one is in a display cabinet at Henry High.
The artist and sculptor Rodger Brodin, who gave us The Lumberman statue, passed away after a heart attack in November of 1995, leaving a wife, Rosemary, two small sons, and a legacy of artwork for us to embrace. A plaque in his honor is located on the Hall of Fame of Henry High. He left us this quote which speaks to the eloquence of his work:
“It has always been my belief that art is not mainly an expression of the artist’s personal vision. Art must also speak to the viewer. And what more eloquent message could one hope to convey that that of the grace and nobility of the human form. Through careful observation and a lifetime of work, I have attempted to capture the essence and movement of the body; I strive to interpret each subtle turn and nuance, each feeling and expression, and so doing, breathe life into my chosen medium.” Quote from an article by Linda Dworsky in Skyway News, June 15, 1993.
Gratitude is extended to Bailey, Jenna and Ted (staff of Special Collections of Hennepin County Libraries) for searching and providing documents for compiling this story and to Neil Brodin for his contributions.
Note: Call Brodin Studio, now owned and operated by Nick Christensen, at 800-274-5194, if you are interested in buying real bronze sculptures made in the USA. There are also some remaining miniature statues by Rodger Brodin that can be purchased.