American Sculpture

Buffalo by Henry Merwin Shrady. sculpture, southwest art.
Buffalo by Henry Merwin Shrady

By Dr. William R. Coles

An exhibit at the Fleischer Museum in Scottsdale, AZ, documents the history of sculpture in the United States, featuring more than 100 works in a variety of genres by National Sculpture Society members both living and deceased. The following is excerpted from a portion of the exhibit catalog that discusses contemporary western sculptors.

At the turn of the century, eastern artists discovered the incomparable beauty of the Southwest as a subject for painting and sculpture. New Mexico, especially the region around Taos and Santa Fe, attracted artists with its mountainous backdrop and the stark simplicity of the surrounding desert. In California, a school of impressionist painting developed, along with a group of fauvist painters including Fresno native Marguerite Thompson, who married the artist William Zorach.

The Wounded Comrade by Carl Ethan Akeley. southwest art.
The Wounded Comrade by Carl Ethan Akeley

A sculptor whose entire career has been spent on the West Coast is John Svenson of Los Angeles. Svenson’s versatility includes three-dimensional works, reliefs, and medals in a variety of materials such as fiberglass, ceramic, cast stone, crystal, iron, brass, aluminum, bronze, and limestone. Some of his most interesting commissions have been carved in wood. In addition to the decorative, historical, and religious themes found in his work, Svenson has specialized in depicting the Native American people and art of the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. Executed in solid form with spare detail, these designs echo Native American art with flowing lines and stylized, sometimes nearly abstract, portrayals of animals.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the regions around Loveland, CO, and Santa Fe, NM, became hotbeds of activity as foundries were opened to provide sculptural services and artists established studios and homes. A new wave of artists emerged whose focus was historic and contemporary western themes and wildlife.

Interested in sculpture from childhood, native Texan Glenna Goodacre was discouraged from pursuing it as a career when a college art professor told her she could not “see” three-dimensional form. She went on to study painting and drawing at the Art Students League in New York City and, for many years, had a successful career as a painter. Goodacre has since had more than 40 commissions. In 1998 she was one of several sculptors selected by the U.S. Mint to design a new coin for the year 2000 commemorating Sacajawea, the Native American woman who served as the guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Her design of Sacajawea with infant son was chosen for the obverse of the new gold alloy dollar.

After receiving a degree in art education at Brigham Young University, Blair Buswell combined his love of sculpture and sports into a very successful career. He has sculpted busts of prominent sports individuals, including inductees into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. In 1998 he completed monuments of two sports legends—a sculpture of Mickey Mantle for a baseball park in Oklahoma City and of Jack Nicklaus for the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in Augusta. He also is known for depictions of scenes related to the historic West, such as How Many More…, a bust of a pensive Native American warrior.

T.D. Kelsey of Pompey’s Pillar, MT, is known for impressionistic sculpture that captures the spirit of his subjects. For many years a rodeo participant, he now trains and shows his own cutting horses. Kelsey’s interest in Texas longhorn cattle, wild horses, African wildlife, and conservation has been the inspiration for several of his works. Texas Gold is located in the historic Stockyards of Fort Worth, and Change of Seasons and Swamp Donkey are at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, WY. In Momma’s Boy, an equine mother and child, the viewer senses Kelsey’s ease with the animal subject, acquired from a lifetime of working with horses.

Featured in February 2000