By Bonnie Gangelhoff
The turning point came when he faced a pile of orders for rocking chairs. In 1985 David Crawford was armed with a degree in art but was focusing his creative talent on making furniture. However, after returning home from a major furniture show that year with an array of orders for rocking chairs, he had a revelation. The Oregon-based Crawford decided that replicating the same piece over and over again was no longer a pursuit that interested him.
Soon after, it was goodbye to rocking chairs and hello to the life of a fine artist, a sculptor. Today, Crawford is a regular participant in the prestigious Sculpture, Objects and Functional Art (SOFA) exhibitions held annually in New York and Chicago. He is known for his signature bronze animals—horses, goats, and dogs that sport rich and colorful patinas. For example, his haunting bronze BELL MARE is typical of his unique patina style—the surface of the sculpture is dappled with green and gold.
While BELL MARE looks as if it might be constructed from found objects or recycled bells, it isn’t. Each of the 28 bells is hand made and cast in bronze by Crawford. He uses an occasional found object in his pieces, such as combs, bullets, and jars, but they are never part of the final piece. The objects are usually coated with wax, leaving just the textures behind. “You won’t find a spark plug in my work, but you might find the mold of a spark plug,” Crawford says.
The sculptor doesn’t have to travel far to a foundry. He has built one on his property in Halfway, a small town of about 300 people nestled on the Snake River. Growing up in rural Oregon and living and working with cattle ranchers has been a major influence on his work. “Aging, wear, and decay are the textures of a rural life,” Crawford explains. “The hasty and even whimsical misapplication of materials employed to repair derelict structures and equipment speak of lives lived, of hardship, and of optimism.” The sculptor adds that many objects and animals seem to reveal the souls of those who use them and keep them working.
Crawford says most of his ideas come to him when he is on the verge of falling asleep at night. He keeps a pile of paper next to his bed so he can draw when his imagination stirs and creative juices flow. “It’s that time of night when I’m not really alert but not asleep either. I think I’m accessing the subconscious,” Crawford says. Often his ideas center on the theme of dominance in reference to man’s relationship to animals as well as in relationships among the human species.
“I don’t make my art for artists, and I don’t try to confuse anyone,” Crawford says. “Despite all the complexities of modern life, our emotions are as simple as ever. We laugh, we cry, we hope, we despair. We delight in things I make art about.” –Bonnie Gangelhoff
Kellys Gallery, Joseph, OR; www.williamzimmergallery.com.
SOFA Chicago, Chicago, IL, November 6-8.
Featured in “Artist to Watch” October 2009