Meet 14 artists who work in bronze, steel & more
This story was featured in the July 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art July 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Tammy Lynn Penn
Lee Caleb Pollock
Danae Bennett Miller
When Kendra Fleischman was in high school in Arvada, CO, she took a bronze-casting class with her father. It was a bonding experience, and it also sparked in Fleischman a love of sculpture. She went on to study art at Colorado State University with a concentration in sculpture, working with stone as her medium of choice. “It’s very seductive; there’s nothing quite like it,” she says. After graduation, she continued to work with various stones until she later moved into bronze.
Inspired by her love of dance and the human form, her abstracted pieces evoke movement and fluidity; she is also influenced by cubism and surrealism. “The more detail you put into a piece, the more it becomes static, and it’s more fun for people to bring their own interpretations into it,” she says. In recent years Fleischman has been creating interactive, futuristic pieces that incorporate videos and sound. It’s an effort to continually expand her artistic boundaries. “I’m not content doing the same thing over and over,” she says. “Even now, 30 years later, I’m still expressing myself differently and pushing to find new ways to challenge my viewers.” Fleischman’s work can be seen at www.kendrafleischman.com. —Joe Kovack
At first glance, one might think of Jill Shwaiko’s bronze sculptures as simple stylized sheep. But as their comical forms draw people in, much more is revealed. Shwaiko explores basic human experiences and emotions, diving beneath the surface to something deeply primal, even spiritual. “My interest is people and how they experience the world,” she says, “and how I experience the world.
“The funny thing is to talk about a spiritual level,” Shwaiko says, laughing. “They’re sheep! But there is this great thing that comes across. There is a language that they have, and people are touched [when they see them].”
Although Shwaiko received a master’s degree in fine art, it wasn’t until she first experienced primitive art that she was touched in a deeply personal way. “Teachers teach you what they love and what they know,” she says, “but they can’t bring you to what you need to do and say [in your art].” The purely visual and conceptual art she’d studied in school simply didn’t affect her on the same level as the primitive art she experienced in Mexico’s Yucatan and at anthropological sites in the Southwest.
Shwaiko’s rounded forms speak of abundance in a world of fear and scarcity. Square forms speak of a heaviness and a firm grounding but are also humorous. “There’s not a lot of heavy concept,” she says. “I like getting out of my head. But there are all these layers of interaction.” Shwaiko is represented by Indigo Gallery, Madrid, NM; Carole LaRoche Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; and Mirada Fine Art, Indian Hills, CO. —Laura Rintala
Tammy Lynne Penn
Having grown up as an only child on a Colorado farm, sculptor Tammy Lynne Penn cherishes the memories of the animals that were part of her everyday existence. Life would have seemed empty without her dogs, cats, horses, and calves, Penn says. Today the Texas-based animal sculptor says her goal is to portray each creature’s unique personality. “The beautiful lines of a horse, a greyhound, or a falcon are so inspiring to me,” Penn says. “And then to know the animal’s personality, and have it show through in a sculpture, is what keeps me working harder and harder to improve as an artist.”
Penn creates her menagerie in three different media—glass, bronze, and raku. Each offers her a chance to take advantage of different properties and processes. She appreciates the luminosity of cast crystal, the organic and primitive nature of raku, and the classic, dramatic impact of bronze. No matter what medium she is working in, Penn says, she is trying to convey the joy that animals bring into her life.
The artist is represented by S.R. Brennen Fine Art, Palm Desert, CA, and Santa Fe, NM; T.H. Brennen Fine Art, Scottsdale, AZ; Spirits in the Wind Gallery, Golden, CO; Vail Fine Art Gallery, Edwards, CO; Beartooth Gallery Fine Art, Red Lodge, MT; Chisholm Gallery, Wellington, FL; Fredericksburg Art Gallery, Fredericksburg, TX; Davis & Co. Fine Art Gallery, Spring, TX; and Grand Teton Gallery, Jackson, WY. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Sculptor Ted Schaal grew up in Fort Collins, CO, with a love of creativity. While he was uninspired by many of his school subjects, he excelled in art, fueled in part by the influence of his father. “I’ve always loved art and did it as much as I could,” Schaal says. “My father was a landscape architect and did a lot of drawings and was very artistic. I always thought that was pretty cool.” Schaal earned his bachelor’s in fine arts from Colorado State University in 1992, focusing on painting and fiber work until his final two years, when he started to experiment with sculpture.
Soon after graduation, he began working at Loveland Sculpture Works foundry, learning the techniques of the trade. Today Schaal works for another foundry, Art Castings of Colorado, and the lessons he learns from working on other artists’ pieces help shape his own. Early on, Schaal’s forms were functional—elaborate boxes and vessels. But a shift over the past 10 years has found him seeking a more abstracted, sculptural quality in his works. His large bronze and stainless-steel pieces are inspired by nature, and he aims for balance between the polished steel and the textured bronze. “I start with what I think will be a beautiful form, and as I’m working, its elements come to life,” he says. “I add the meaning as I’m working on them.” Schaal is represented by Artful Sol, Vail, CO; Gallery One, Naples, FL; Vilona Gallery, Boulder, CO; Skol Studio & Design, Ouray, CO; and www.schaalarts.com. —Joe Kovack
For Nnamdi Okonkwo, the human form is the symbol through which he expresses the condition of being human. “Of course I am a figurative sculptor,” Okonkwo says. But, unlike artists whose work is about correct human anatomy, he says, “I am interested in capturing the soul. I search for forms to express my ideas and feelings about humanity.”
Born in eastern Nigeria, the artist came to the United States in the late 1980s and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Brigham Young University in Hawaii and then a Master of Fine Arts from BYU in Provo, UT. Today he and his family make their home in Georgia. Okonkwo thinks of himself as a medium or channel through which ideas that already exist in the world can find form.
Inspiration for his simplified, full-figured men and women, which express the largeness and fullness of humanity, comes through him, Okonkwo says, and he does not have to approach the clay with a specific idea. “My job is to always go to the studio,” he says, “and the rest will happen in the right time. The inspiration will come.” Okonkwo remains devoted to mastering his art, which he distinctly feels is a calling—something that happens on a spiritual level—and through which he shares universal ideas of love, joy, and serenity. “There is nothing I hold as close to my heart as the human soul,” he says.
William Carrington is a self-described “big outdoor enthusiast” with a fondness for hunting, fishing, and Mother Nature in general. So it seems a perfect fit that wildlife would be his subject matter of choice. “On the inside, I am outside,” Carrington says, making reference to an advertisement for a popular ice cooler.
The Texas sculptor says that getting outdoors is always on his mind. If Carrington happens to be indoors, it’s a safe bet that he’s in his studio creating jackrabbits, owls, fish, and horses. His bronzes, large and small, are known for capturing a touch of the sculptor’s trademark sense of humor, a quality he sees in the wild and enjoys expressing to viewers. And Carrington’s pieces often portray animals on the move. Pigs fly, horses gallop, and dogs give chase. “I try to convey to the viewer the appreciation and awe that fills me when it comes to wildlife,” he says.
Although the sculptor earned a fine-arts degree from Texas State University in San Marcos, he began pursuing sculpting a bit later in life than some, eventually leaving behind positions as a graphic artist and an elementary school teacher. Carrington says he has always possessed a knack for fashioning three-dimensional works in a variety of materials, but he eventually settled on bronze because of its visual appeal and permanency.
The artist is represented by Parchman Stremmel Galleries, San Antonio, TX; Capital Fine Art, Austin, TX; Felder Gallery, Port Aransas, TX; and Kiowa Gallery & Custom Framing, Alpine, TX. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Kevin Robb thrives on sculpting and creating art. A vital part of his life, his work is both the product of, and a means for, communicating to the world.
Eleven years ago, Robb—a fabrication sculptor, who works in stainless steel, bronze, and aluminum—suffered a stroke, the lasting effects of which have changed the way he produces his art. “It’s all charades,” says Diane Robb, Kevin’s wife of 40 years, of the way he communicates with his studio staff. Unable to speak and with limited mobility, Robb works with a crew of welders and craftsmen who follow his instructions. In the studio, Robb directs this crew through every step of a sculpture’s fabrication—choosing the specific sheet of metal, making the cuts, creating the finish—all through gestures and drawings. The monumental, one-of-a-kind sculptures are combinations of separate elements, notched and joined so that the pieces flow seamlessly together.
The process is a give and take. While Robb directs the staff, he says that he, himself, must respect and listen to the metal. “The metal will tell you what needs to happen,” Robb relates. “The metal will tell you where it will go.”
“Now that he can’t talk,” Diane says, “he loves [to sculpt] things that are simplistic in nature, never too complicated. It has to be uplifting and make someone feel good.” He has no time for art that is dark or negative, for the striking results are his voice to the world. Robb is represented by Dean Day Gallery, Houston, TX; Pippin Contemporary, Santa Fe, NM; Coda Gallery, Palm Desert, CA; and www.kevinrobb.com. —Laura Rintala
Lee Caleb Pollock
California-based sculptor Lee Caleb Pollock grew up in an artistic family: his father was a ceramist and a potter, and his stepmother was a sculptor. At the age of 7, he was creating miniature whale tails in clay and selling them at the art festivals his father attended. “[Art] was something I was always doing as a kid,” he says. “I loved playing with clay and making sculptures.” Pollock accompanied his father to festivals along the California coast, observing and learning along the way. Then, during his senior year in high school, he studied the lost-wax process for casting bronze sculpture, and his love of sculpting began in earnest.
After a year spent living in Seattle after high school, Pollock returned to his native Lake Tahoe and took bronze-casting classes at the local community college. There he learned the techniques that shape his work today, especially the application of patinas, which remains a favorite part of the process for Pollock. His works range from figurative pieces to wildlife and sea life, all created with clean lines and sleek surfaces. “A lot of artists have a niche, genre, or style they go after,” he says. “I’m still playing around, making art and sculpting, and I have a really broad range of styles and abilities that keep it interesting.” Pollock’s work can be seen at Silver Heron Art Gallery, Depoe Bay, OR, and www.leepollock.wordpress.com. —Joe Kovack
Danae Bennett Miller
When she’s deep in the process of sculpting, Danae Bennett Miller says she goes “into another dimension. You’re going into your creative reality, which tunes out everything else in the world.” There Miller sculpts animals ranging from cranes to cougars. Since childhood, the artist has been surrounded by animals, and they always have been a powerful presence in her life. “I just connect with the animal form,” Miller says, and through her sculpture, she strives to express the life force of those animals.
Miller works with sheets of warm, pliable wax, which she shapes into the desired forms—hooved animals being her favorites. The end result is much like a shell of the animal. “Early on I was given wax [to work with] and was fascinated with how I could translate what I wanted to convey. Working with wax [as opposed to clay], you can create something much more airy and light,” she says. Her creations are then cast in bronze, making them strong yet delicate. Adding to the delicacy, the artist might finish a sculpture with leaded crystal elements. In those cases, she first sculpts the entire piece in wax, then she separates the parts that will be poured in bronze and those that will be poured in crystal. Once poured, the pieces are joined together. “I wanted to add another layer of complexity,” she says. “The color and the illumination [of crystal] are exciting for me.”
Copper Tritscheller isn’t necessarily drawn to the same animals that many sculptors like to portray. And Tritscheller’s creatures, whether bats or donkeys, don’t always look like themselves because they bear humanlike features and talents. In fact, the sculptor’s signature bronzes push the boundaries between animal and human: burros balance precariously on pedestals, and bats with exaggerated wings suggest comic-book superheroes. The sculptor relishes working out the structural and aesthetic challenges of amalgamation and morphing the animal and human together in one figure.
Although Tritscheller creates a variety of animals, she is often attracted to bats and burros because she believes they are misunderstood. Throughout civilization, burros have proven to be smart, loyal, and hardworking, carrying loads that weigh more than they do, she explains. And bats perform crucial ecological roles, consuming crop-destroying insects, and they contribute to fruit and flower pollination. “Like most artists, I want to create something that resonates with viewers,” Tritscheller says. “I don’t have premeditated ideas I want to convey. But I do want to spark something akin to primal emotion—a feeling or thought that connects you at that moment with what you are looking at. I take animals which have caused an emotional response in me and try to share that feeling with my work.”
When Deran Wright was a mere 15 years old, he was hired as a commercial illustrator for a magazine in his native Fort Worth, TX. Wright, gifted at drawing, knew immediately after that initial encounter with the commercial art world that it held no appeal—he didn’t like working for someone else. For the past 36 years Wright has been his own boss, building his artistic reputation on creating expressive bronze sculptures in an array of genres—figurative, animal, fantasy, and mythological. Residents and visitors to Fort Worth know his work well; his iconic, monumental SLEEPING PANTHER OF FORT WORTH catnaps languidly on the front lawn of a county administration building. His bronzes have also traveled all the way to the White House: In 1989, President George H.W. Bush unveiled Wright’s sculpture dedicated to the memory of the crew of the space shuttle Challenger.
Wright says he moves from one genre to another and from monumental to miniatures because he enjoys the variety. A side benefit is that this approach keeps his work fresh and original. At the same time, because he works in bronze, his pieces evoke a sense of timelessness. Wright seems at ease displaying a sense of humor in works that feature dancing elephants and impish gnomes. But he is equally at home conveying a more somber mood in pieces such as those dedicated to a small town’s firemen and policemen. Wright is represented by Davis & Co. Fine Art Gallery, Spring, TX. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Growing up outside of a ranching community in Craig, CO, Margaret Drake was fascinated with the beauty of the horse. She obsessively drew the equine form, sometimes copying works by the great Frederic Remington. While her parents shared her propensity for the arts, they encouraged her to pursue a practical career. At the University of Northern Colorado, Drake studied biology and chemistry; after graduation she worked in pharmaceuticals until her retirement in 2008, when she decided to return to the world of art. “I needed to get that part of myself out in the open,” Drake says.
The budding artist took a three-dimensional portraiture class, which she found tedious, but it inspired her to explore sculpture. Since then, Drake has taken workshops every year with professional sculptors at the Scottsdale Artists’ School. Today she’s known for her western-themed pieces but enjoys creating various figurative works as well. “I want to challenge myself with pieces that inspire me,” she says. “I try not to do just western art. I like to be able to do anything and make it beautiful.” Drake is represented by The White Buffalo Gallery, Glen Rose, TX; Adobe Western Art Gallery, Fort Worth, TX; and www.margaretdrakestudio.com. —Joe Kovack
California sculptor Ed Hart creates unique works of art in wood and fiberglass. His abstracted, faceless fiberglass figures and nonobjective wood sculptures are products of his imagination, derived from his desire to focus on the medium, rather than the subject itself. “I never liked to make wood look like something that isn’t wood. I’m not trying to make a lifelike figure, I’m making something that’s attractive,” Hart says. “When I do my fiberglass [pieces], I do [them] so you can tell what the person is doing, but it’s the body language that’s the focus.”
Hart has been creating his life-size sculptures full time for 21 years, since he retired from teaching art and woodshop. Now 81, he says he creates more than ever, nearly seven days a week. It’s a love affair with art that has lasted a lifetime, he says, admitting that “art is something you get attached to and end up doing all the time. It tends to be what you’re thinking about most of the time, and [now] I have the freedom to do exactly what’s in my mind.” Hart is represented by Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art, Laguna Beach, CA; The Hollywood Sculpture Garden, Hollywood, CA; and www.edhartsculptor.com. —Joe Kovack
Sculptor Patsy Davis lives on a ranch near the gateway to Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. In some ways it comes as no surprise that she is an animal sculptor—she shares her mountain views with six horses, a mule, and a trio of dogs named Webster, Birdy, and Emmy Lou. Davis is the first to admit that she is particular about the animals she chooses to sculpt. She focuses on depicting only subjects that she knows well, such as dogs, which she has trained, bred, and shown in competitions. She rarely casts her creative eye on animals in the wild. “I very much try to sculpt the ‘being’ of the animal,” Davis says. “I like to say that I use the outside of the subject to portray the inside. I sculpt animals that I feel some intimacy with.”
After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in sculpture, Davis worked for 25 years as a commercial sculptor, developing toy lines such as My Little Pony for Hasbro Inc. as well as product lines for Disney and Warner Bros. Today the sculptor is committed to going beyond simple renderings of animals and strives instead to capture the personality and emotions of a creature, be it finely feathered or four-legged. As she is fond of saying, “The challenge is always to put life in the metal.”
The artist is represented by Sorrel Sky Gallery, Durango, CO, and Santa Fe, NM; Broadmoor Galleries, Colorado Springs, CO; Biltmore Galleries, Scottsdale, AZ; and Goodnight Trail Gallery, Mancos, CO. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Featured in the July 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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