THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 7
With the forced discipline years between 1968 and1970 behind me, sculpture began in earnest in the summer of 1970. Now sculpture was always on tap, encompassing music, art, ballet and babies. Where life's lessons now blended ponies past, painters, sculptors, dancers, teachers and musicians, choreographers, composers and too.... with the most marvelous directors of fine art films such as "Amadeus," "Turning Point" and "To Kill A Mockingbird." My sculpture would come from this acquired library of sounds and images, which scrambled themselves into my head, and then found their way to my hands. I was determined to try to capture movement in my work and somehow, make it sing.
I do not think that we are aware, of the building of a library for our very own personal use, but that is exactly what we are doing, whether we think about it or not. Everyone has such a library... a library of thoughts, ideas and experience. Sometimes, the volumes are just thrown at you in the form of life, and imprinted on your character, and sometimes, if you are lucky, you have a chance to select your own books. A fascination with movement and body articulations has pursued me throughout my career. It has chased me and I have tried to catch it.
Just as a photographer tries to catch his subject and hold it still, the sculptor takes something that is standing still and tries to make it move. It is this special certain something, which kisses each sculpture to life, so that ultimately, the work can live on its’ own ….. quite independently of its creator. The experiences of life become the classroom for this endeavor, a classroom, which is open twenty-four, seven. Yes, "Movement is the tongue of life." Could I capture life's movements in bronze? I didn't know. What I did know was this: that life's movements captured in bronze would become the challenge and that I would try to fuse these illusive qualities of implied movements, right into the soul of each piece.
Water based clays, all have their special needs and require constant attention. Wood and stone want their own rooms and welding with "kidd-letts" around the house was absolutely out of the question. So Wax and Plasticine became my weapons of choice in Sunshine, because they are safe and easy to use around the children.. You can put these materials away for any length of time and then pick them up again, whenever you choose, and continue on at any time, between the measles, mumps, and chicken pox.
After the "long sleep," I was seldom without a ball of wax in my pocket. This kept the sculptures fresh and immediate. Whenever there was a spare moment between the house and the children, I could just pull out the old ball of wax and churn out another piece. And "churning them out" was a pretty good description. The most remarkable thing, was that apparently no effort was needed to make these little wax sketches. Whatever was in my mind, now flowed outward through my hands. No "times of complete silence to foster concentration," were needed to create them, nor was a "private room away from the family activities" required. Sculpture just seemed to happen...and it happened right smack in the middle of breakfast, while watching the children play or in the middle of a telephone conversation with a friend...The stuff just happened. I could watch my hands, almost like watching someone else's hands do all the work, or so it seemed. In just a few weeks, I had a number of finished figures, which I stored in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator, between the frozen meats and vegetables. Getting these little wax gems, cast into bronze would be the next step.
My husband had a few days off and volunteered to care for the little ones. Early, in the coolest part of the day, (because I didn't want the waxes to melt) I drove to Noroton, Connecticut to work with Ron Cavalier, who owned and operated the Renaissance Fine Art Foundry. This was the beginning of a working relationship that was to last for many years to come. "Cast as much original work as you can and as soon as you can," Ron advised. "The costs are rising rapidly. Once you have your originals in bronze, you can use them immediately, or perhaps years later, but the important part is that you will have them. You can make editions from them or use them for enlargements and create new editions, in any size, based on this work and you can take these little fellows and make them grow up to life or even heroic-sized works for future commissions." (Life-sized? Wow! Now that… was a totally new idea to me! ) "Never forget that these little maquettes are your most valuable work," said Ron, "so take good care of them, and if you can...Hold on to them. These pieces are just wonderful and they will help you to secure new work, and new clients. You see, the customer is not always able to envision what a larger work will look like, otherwise he would be the artist, so it is up to you, to use these little bronze sketches to demonstrate to your client, just how the finished work will look. Now, come out back to the parking lot with me. I want to show you how to do this."
"Over here....See? .... You must hold this little figure... up.... against the sky. Now... photograph it so that there will be no sense of scale..... like so." Ron held up one of the small bronze sketches against the summer-blue-skies of Noroton. "Try to keep your hands and fingers out of the way." With one arm around me, he steadied my hand. We both stared at the little bronze sculpture, imagining beautiful photographs in the hands of nameless, future customers. "I like this one Sterett. It's got a life of its own. When you go back to Sunshine, why don't you make her life-sized and I will cast her for you. She will make a lovely Garden piece and this one will help you to get those future commissions. This is the one, which will help you to get started as a professional in the art world. Believe me, you will learn more from making this piece life-sized, than you did in all four years of college." Ron was right too. He gave me lots of advice about the "do's" and "don'ts" in the foundry. (Flattery of course will get you anywhere you want to go.) This was the first time I began to think about building a sculpture in a different scale....which is sort of like moving from scribbling a one line melody, to writing a full length symphony. I was blissfully unaware of this fact and had absolutely no idea what I would be in for, should I ever make such an attempt.
Ron Cavalier and I were to cast many works together. He was the beginning of my postgraduate education. He was correct in his assessment of the value of building a life-sized figure and he was right once again about the casting costs which, have gone through the roof!
Home again, the urge to take up Ron's challenge to build a life-sized figure was irresistible. I found that the professional enlarging services were so costly, that I decided to do this part of my project on my own. Total control could be exercised over the little wax figures which, represented exactly what I had in my mind, but translating them into big sculptures was something else entirely. The physical problems were enormous. More than once, the clay figures sat down on me or tumbled over onto the floor. The solving of these engineering problems was indeed the self-education to which Ron Cavalier had alluded. Many artists can make up exquisite little sketches and in fact, much of the artist's creativity comes from these little sketches. However, at some point an Architect, for example, must be able to move from the Architect's model and actually build the house. This is the same sort of challenge for sculptors.
I found a very lovely artist's model at the University of Maryland named Blee ( Barbara-Lee) Furbush, who was completing her own degree in the arts. Barbara and I set out to "build a house together." She helped me transition from three small bronze sketches to my first, completed life-sized works of art.
See File #23 " Elise-Gillet-Boyce-of-Bacon-Hall "
File #24 " Cadwallader-Washburn-Kelsey-of-Lake-Avenue-Greenwich”
File #41 " Barbara-Lee-Furbush-in-Sunshine "
After three months of smacking the clay around with a butcher's knife, (my weapon of choice) a figure appeared which was based on one of my little bronze sketches. ( File #23 ) Then I called my friend John Sollennee. John was a master mold maker from the fourth generation of Italian master sculptors and mold makers. He drove all the way down from Bridgeport Connecticut to help me build a rubber mold for my first life-sized figure. It took several days to accomplish our mission. We built a rubber mold right over the finished clay figure which, when you pull it off of the sculpture, looks rather like the inside of a Halloween mask, excepting that it is extremely detailed. So much so, that even my fingerprints on the clay were recorded in the rubber. It is an amazing process. The mold once completed, was lugged out to my pick-up truck and readied for a trip back to the Renaissance Foundry in Connecticut where we would be casting my first big figure into bronze. (File # 23) Over the years, John Sollennee made most of my sculpture molds. We were a pretty good team! Today, one of my sculptures, of course, bears John's name!
I was off on an adventure that would become a lifetime addiction! So this is how I became a sculptor. Today, there are 286 original sculptures. Each one bears the name of someone who is important in my life. To each and every one of them, God bless you and thank you. There are other things that make you a sculptor of course, because your entire life becomes your art. I have selected a few more vignettes in order to give you a bit of insight into the making of this particular sculptor. This process is different for every artist, but this is how it was for me.