Wildlife bronzes by Sandy Scott reflect a lifetime of observing nature
By Norman Koplas
What achievement is acclaimed wildlife sculptor Sandy Scott most fired up about these days? Could it be her participation in the prestigious Prix de West show, which opened in June at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and runs through September 6? How about this month’s Cheyenne Frontier Days Western Art Show and Sale, or next month’s Western Rendezvous of Art in Helena, MT, or September’s Western Visions show at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole?
Or maybe it’s Scott’s recent election to a second term as one of three sculptors on the 26-member board of trustees for Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina? Brookgreen is home to the world’s largest outdoor collection of American representational sculpture, and the permanent home to four pieces by Scott herself.
Any of these milestones, taken individually, would be worthy of celebration, and—after more than two and a half decades as a sculptor and most of her adult life as an artist—Scott is suitably proud of and humbled by them all. “I honestly feel like I’ve achieved the goals that I had set for myself as an artist,” says Scott, who turns 67 this month.
But her biggest excitement right now is not a show or an honor or a work of art. It’s a large motor home. Scott and her studio director of 20 years, Trish Smith, are planning on driving it across the continent. “It’s my traveling studio on wheels,” says Scott with evident relish. “There are places I want to go, subjects I want to see up close and personal.”
That close, personal connection between artist and subject has always been a hallmark of Scott’s work. During her childhood, it expressed itself in her constant drawings of the animals on the Quarter Horse farm where she grew up, on the outskirts of Tulsa, OK. “I was always going to be an artist. My earliest memories are of my mother and father giving me art supplies, paper, and books,” she says. “And there was never any question that my subjects would be the things I saw around me.”
A family move into town in her mid-teens put her under the guidance of Edison High art teacher Sue Johnson, who helped her put together a portfolio that won Scott admission to the respected Kansas City Art Institute. “Going there was like this huge smorgasbord of art basics and techniques,” she recalls. “It introduced me to all elements of art, including composition, drawing, anatomy, painting, printmaking, and sculpture.”
But before Scott could complete her degree there, an even more appealing opportunity presented itself to the 20-year-old student. She was recruited by Calvin Productions in Kansas City, which at the time was the nation’s largest producer of educational and documentary films. She worked there as an airbrush artist in the animation department, creating background scenes on a wide variety of projects, from TV commercials to films for NASA in which she depicted what the moon or Mars would look like when astronauts landed there. “Having to meet the deadlines and demands of the art department was unbelievable training,” she says. “That catapulted me immediately from being a student to a professional.”
After three years at Calvin, Scott left to pursue another passion—flying. She earned her pilot’s license and tried to break into commercial aviation. Unfortunately that plan stalled in the face of a prejudice against women pilots that was common in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
All the while, however, Scott continued to create art, assembling a portfolio of graphite drawings along with some hand-pulled etchings of animals and rural scenes. In 1975, she showed her portfolio to Ann Haygood, founder of Gallery Shoal Creek in Austin, TX. “She took the etchings,” Scott says, her voice still tinged with amazement. “Within three months, money started coming in from their sales. By the time the year was out, I was represented by 20 galleries across the Southwest.” Before her mid-30s, Scott had launched a career as a successful artist.
In 1981 Scott’s reputation as a printmaker resulted in an invitation to be one of 15 American artists to tour the People’s Republic of China with a traveling show of their work. En route to visiting the Great Wall, Scott fell into conversation with some of the other artists, including sculptors Glenna Goodacre and Fritz White, about their respective mediums. As Scott recalls, “Someone said to me, ‘You know, Sandy, you’ll never be in the big juried shows until you start doing paintings or sculptures.’ They told me that the word ‘print’ almost had a stigma with collectors,” with original etchings being regarded as little different from mechanically produced reproductions. “That put a little fire into me,” says Scott.
She had always enjoyed sculpting, ever since art school, so she turned to a subject she knew well: birds. “For the first three years of my sculpting career, I concentrated exclusively on birds,” she notes. “I knew the subject through my upbringing, my travels, and my drawing ability. Through aviation and my knowledge of aerodynamics, I also understood what causes a bird to fly, which gave me the ability to create the illusion of flight.”
And, indeed, Scott’s career as a sculptor immediately began to soar. Pieces from one of her earliest editions—a pair of mallard ducks—were purchased by two major museums, Brookgreen Gardens and the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Curators and collectors alike were drawn to her ability to combine the lifelike motion of flight with her refreshingly spare interpretation of birds.
On canvas, such an approach might be termed “painterly” or “impressionistic.” But Scott steers clear of such labels for her sculptures. “The term I use is ‘Hemingway-esque.’ I want my sculptures to be all nouns and verbs, to get directly to the point.” Too much detail results in sculptures that feel “static,” she says. “You can take a perfectly understood, beautiful form and screw it up by modeling every feature. With birds in flight, you don’t see every detail. It’s a blur.”
That said, Scott prides herself on her devotion to anatomical and behavioral accuracy, which is well evident not only in recent works like the tender, lyrical depiction of fantail doves called HEARTS ENTWINED (above), but also in such non-avian sculptures as COYOTE CLIPPER. “The form has to say it all,” she says. “No amount of detail is going to resurrect poorly conceived or poorly rendered form.”
Those are the kinds of valuable lessons Scott enjoys imparting to the students who take the workshops she frequently offers. “Teaching forces me to go back to the basics,” she notes. “Teaching is a discipline that makes you grow as an artist. My students learn from me, but I also learn from them.”
When she’s not teaching, or rolling along in her studio on wheels, Scott can be found in one of her two stationary studios. Home base is in Lander, WY, in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains and not far from Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Summer and early fall months might also find her working in a studio she has on an island in Lake of the Woods in Minnesota, near the Canadian border. “That’s where I go to get close to my subject matter,” she says. “There are all sorts of ducks and geese and pelicans and herons and loons and moose and deer. And I know right where to find them.”
As assiduously as she studies live subjects, she also delves deeply into the works of earlier sculptors. In recent years, she’s been going through what she calls “an Art Deco phase,” admiring works by such sculptors as Donald De Lue, Anna Hyatt Huntington, Paul Manship, and Adolph Weinman—artists who were not necessarily part of the Art Deco movement but were influenced by its devotion to streamlined forms.
Scott has also been studying the formalized simplification of the classical world. That interest is evident in EQUUS FOUND, a pair of horses that deliberately “look like they had been unearthed or dragged up from the bottom of the Aegean Sea,” in both their form and their burnished patinas. She recounts with delight how painter Scott Christensen, upon seeing this work, approached her and told her he had to own it. “At my age, I don’t need reassurance,” she says. “But it just makes me feel wonderful that a piece speaks to fellow artists as well as to collectors and museum people. If we do art just for ourselves, we’re missing our mark.”
At this point in a career that all but demands to be called distinguished, Scott remains entirely free of any airs of pretension. “For me to sit back and rest on my laurels is simply not in my nature,” she says. “I want collectors to say, ‘I’m really anxious to see what Sandy has in the Autry show or the Prix de West.’ I hope I can keep them excited and energized about what I’m going to do next.” And with that goal in mind, no doubt Scott will soon be hitting the road once again in search of fresh inspiration.
Columbine Gallery, Loveland, CO; Wilcox Gallery, Jackson, WY; Situ Art Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA; Trailside Galleries, Scottsdale, AZ; Mountain Trails Gallery, Sedona, AZ; Montgomery-Lee Fine Art, Park City, UT; Paderewski Fine Art, Vail, CO; Hayden-Hays Gallery, Colorado Springs, CO; Whistle Pik Galleries, Fredericksburg, TX; Dodson Galleries, Oklahoma City, OK; Fox Gallery, Woodstock, NY; McBride Gallery, Annapolis, MD; Morris & Whiteside Galleries,
ilton Head, SC; www.sandyscott.com.
Featured in July 2010