Outside of important humans in my life and our pair of precious pooches, there are two things that have kept me relatively sane over the pandemic past (and present) – one is the connections I've made with many of you – voices from around the world in diverse circumstances who write and share their challenges, wisdom and comments with me. Each communication lifts me up from the latest onslaught of bad news on far too many fronts. The other preoccupation that brings me peace and pleasure is sculpting in clay that will, one day, transform into a work of art in bronze.
Humans first started to make the metal – an alloy of copper, tin, sometimes arsenic, and other minerals - in Africa and the Near East. The Bronze Age, 3300 BC to 1200 BC, was so important to cultural evolution that an entire era bears its name. The technology created a new communication tool that could be shared widely - beyond the walls of caves that bear the earliest human art. It was also used for tool making, weapons, worship, and trade. All this contributed to what we know as civilization – settled human groups united, sharing resources, developing economies, and defending their territories.
I spent some time pondering just why I was drawn to bronze sculpting – an art that's time-consuming, complicated, and very expensive to produce. Why don’t I just take up oil painting? Other than the truth that I have little talent in that discipline, I realized there was a deeper motivation. I've always found value in the enduring past – music, art, cultures, ancestors, and human traditions. I've got degrees in archaeology, anthropology, and African Studies. I appreciate music that stands the test of time. And I have always found elders far more interesting than young people. In this context, bronze makes perfect sense.
I started dabbling with the art after doing a newspaper story on a bronze foundry (I was a writer/reporter for most of my working life). Most stories I wrote were filed away and forgotten after the deadline. But the foundry experience stuck with me. A little voice said, "You can do that!.” I bought a brick of clay and started sculpting. To both my surprise and delight, the small statue I made was not terrible – though the cost of casting was terrifying. I was undeterred.
At the age of 59, I found myself fully enraptured by sculpting for bronze and choosing to ignore the cost of the process. I loved the hours spent molding and manipulating the oil-based clay (it never dries). I was fascinated by the complex process once the sculpting was done – the mold making, wax pouring and finishing, and the timeless casting into bronze at an art foundry.
A foundry is usually a vast space filled with sounds of clanking chains, metal on metal, the hum and whir of air-powered tools – all in the hands of skilled craftsmen and women. If you check out the foundry process on my website, you'll get a picture of this artistically extreme environment (Plenty of images and not a lot of words).
In the years I continued to work primarily as a writer, I also made sculptures as time, and my bank account allowed. I sold some pieces and had the honor of having one purchased and donated to the Sacramento Zoo. It stands in front of the carousel where countless children have rubbed his head for many years, making it shine with love. A few of my works have won accolades and awards – Best in Show and Blue Ribbons.
It's been particularly gratifying to work on commissions like the image of Lucy, a beautiful Golden Retriever who went to dog heaven just months after I completed the piece. It's now installed on a lovely chest that holds her ashes and so many memories. It's a privilege and a trust to work with people to transform an idea into an everlasting artwork, a benefit I never imagined when I dove so fully into my passion for bronze sculpting.
My biggest and most challenging work is a near-lifesize bust of Pope Francis that took me about two years to complete. I still ask myself, "why." His face popped into my head while I was sitting under pine trees at a picnic table in the Sierra, and I started the sculpture then and there. I admire this Pope – his compassion and kindness and ability to resist the Vatican bureaucracy. He cost me $5,000 to liberate from the foundry. He won the Blue Ribbon at an art show last year and awaits adoption by a nice Catholic parish.
And now, into what we hope are the waning months of the pandemic, I am even deeper into my obsession. With the help of a partner who knows about marketing and fundraising, I'm sculpting a monumental tribute to honor the men and women who fought to keep our homes safe from last year's Caldor Fire – three panels depicting firefighters, wildlife, and Indigenous stewards of the forest. I'm also working on a sculpture of the cheetahs at the Sacramento Zoo for their annual fundraiser.
I'm so grateful that sculpting has kept me engaged and imagining and never bored throughout the trials of the last two years. My biggest regret is that I didn't discover my passion when I was far younger – I often think about how much I would have learned and improved in the art over decades of experience. Now, my best hope is to emulate Grandma Moses, who found her art very late in life but never let time defeat her passion.
Thanks for spending time with me. I hope you too have passions that help lighten the load of cautions and concerns we've shared for more than two years. I'd love to hear how (and what) you are doing to improve your own experience and lift your spirits - email me at firstname.lastname@example.org !