Today I completed, or should I say almost completed the commission of Willard R. Sparks for the University of Memphis. There is just some minor smoothing out to be done and then he is off to the foundry. I expect he will be going through the mold process by the weekend. His daughter came by and approved the sculpture. I have really enjoyed sharing not just memories of Mr. Sparks but also her love of animals and other things. Here are some final pictures.
Moving along and trying to finish Mr. Sparks for the University of Memphis by next week. That is if my thumb holds out.
When trying to capture the likeness of someone it is much more difficult when you don’t have lots of reference. The more reference the easier my job. I tried to pull some photographs from a memorial video and they helped some but it is nice to have both profile and front view. Without that the sculpture may look exactly like the subject from the front, but from the side it will look like a stranger. I spent the weekend roughing in the sculpture and have a good start, I may have to hold off on doing any more until I have more reference. If the client can’t find any of course I’ll do my best. But here is the sculpture as it appears roughed in. This is Mr. Sparks for the University of Memphis.
Here the process begins again, tapping into more than a likeness, but the life and essence of someone I have never known. As I get to know my subject, “develop a relationship with the deceased”, as a friend once said. I feel very honored to be the artist chosen to capture such a great man.
The other day I met Mr. Sparks’ daughter. I gravitated to her, felt bonded with her. She was real, caring, a grown women who had a part of her daddy in her. Her love of animals, her desire to help others. It is these elements that I see and feel in the living that helps me bond with the deceased.
I just finished watching the memorial video of Mr. Sparks. At first I could get no sound and i searched through the video instead looking for profiles, something that was lacking in the reference material that I was given. Screen shot after screen shot I longed to hear what was being said about the man. I’m interested in his life, his part in history.
I found a button on the computer that gave me sound and watched the entire segment the second time this time with volume. These comments of those who knew and loved the man are as important as the physical reference. They help me to tap into the essence of who he was. One video segment made me smile. I rewound the video, saying “Stop, stop, oh there you are”. The twinkle in the eye, the smile. Let me capture that essence.
Now to transfer this to clay. I’m ever reminded of the little boy in the movie Hook. Who smooshes the grown Peter’s face around until he says, “Oh there you are Peter Pan!” That wonder is how I begin.
The state of Oklahoma and the state of Tennessee sure were lucky to have such a man as Willard R. Sparks
Willard R Sparks
Born in Dibble, Oklahoma October 10, 1936
Died in Memphis, Tennessee on January 30, 2005
It feels good to have a commission that I can talk about. I have so many secret ones going on right now. It is a Christmas thing. My newest Commission is of Willard R Sparks, for the University of Memphis. Here is a link to information about Mr Sparks. Another one of those quick turn around commissions, but I look forward to getting to know the man, and I’ll be blogging about the process for all of those UM alumni, students and faculty that care to watch.
Many of those in the music industry have had people trying to take a piece of them their entire carriers, if that has hardened them to others then it will make my job much more difficult. Because remember, I am trying to capture much more than a likeness, I am trying to capture the essence of an individual.
For example B. B. King was wonderful to work with. Bill Monroe on the other hand was a harder nut to crack. I was able to soften him up a bit, even to the point where he hit me in the arm with his elbow as we were walking from the Grand Ole Opry.
Minnie Pearl was approaching, and Bill said, “Tell er watcha doen, tell er wathcha doen.” It was the first time he showed real emotion over the sculpture.
I have enjoyed not only the sculpting of those who are famous, but also the research about them. I love history, and studying about an individual is a study in history. Especially if they have played roll in shaping that history, either politically, like Jesse Jones, or musically like B. B. King Willie Nelson, and Bill Monroe.
A funny story about B. B. King
I was a sitting, next to B. B. King, calipers in my lap and I said, “Mr. King, I will have to touch you in this sitting.”
I know some people have a problem with people touching them especially their face, so I thought I should say something.
He replied, “Oh darling, you are already touching me!”
I looked at the calipers in my lap and him and said, “I don’t know what you mean.”
He said, “Your thigh is against my thigh and believe me the thrill is not gone!”
I love my stories about sculpting.
By the way, I equally enjoy sculpting for those people who just think their subject is a star!
I wanted to share with you how excited our father was with the
sculpture. He was in Houston last week and was able to see the piece for the first time. He loved it and was so pleased with how it
Thank you for making that possible.
Sometimes working on commissions and talking to clients you have to be very sensitive to what you think they are trying to say. Sometimes the need is deeper than a voice. That was the case with this commission. The son asked for a bronze of his father. I loved the sensitivity the son explored in wanting, almost having to have this done of his father. I think I can identify with the son. He lives in one state and his father in another. That is the case with myself. I live in Texas mom and dad live in NY. I too desire to have something artistic of them. I plan on casting their hands. There is just something about hands. I seem to remember a line in the movie Beaches where the woman forgets what her mothers hands look like and does not want her daughter to forget hers. I guess I’ll have to watch the movie again, it is has been years. I do remember crying during that scene. Being an artist, hands are not the only artistic expression I felt I had to have of a loved one. Many, many years ago I took reference photographs of my grandfather, he is long since been deceased. The pictures are of him reading the paper, legs crossed in front of him and his hand nestled under his chin, fingers outspread, and pinky playfully brushing his lips. It was grandpas thoughtful look and I wanted to have it forever. I still have not created a piece in the likeness of this picture. Their have been many emotional times of feeling the compulsion to have this person, to hold this person in my memory and in art for everyone to see.
The father came for a sitting and I began the sculpture. As I came nearer to completion I posted it on the blog. The son contacted me and said that it was not his father, not the way he remembers him in his mind. AHHHHH that is entirely different than creating from a sitting from life. It also can be difficult to find the hidden need of the client. Now I had something to work with. Probing some more the son sent me pictures that resembled the dad he wanted to capture. Which really turned out to be quite younger. Here is the progress on deaging the dad and working not with realism but with a clients desire and memory, a need to hold something dearer than just an image. First picture is the older sculpture and reference before finishing. the bottom picture is the young sculpture and reference.
The work in progress
It is always exciting to watch the process of sculpture from start to finish. Here is the final of the latest sculpture that I have sculpted.
It will be presented at the end of this month.
If you have read my blog then you are familiar with this part of the bronze process. After the bronze is cast and the pieces are welded together I am asked to come to the foundry and look at the metal. Marker in hand I go over the piece and look for any blemishes or things that might need a little work, perhaps some clarification. I like to bring the clay bust with me so that I can compare the two. My apprentice came with me and we had a wonderful conversation with Miguel at the foundry. He is always a delight, and then a quick stop over at Ben Woitena’s studio to see how his work is coming along. I especially enjoyed our conversation as we compared figurative sculpting to the type of work that Ben does. Here is a link to see Ben’s work.
After these minor details are taken care of the bronze enters the patina stage and is mounted. Soon this sculpture will be home.