People often ask, “Why did you sculpt that particular bird?” My answer often begins with the story that belongs to that particular bird. Such as the Red Knot Sandpiper’s amazing migration, of 9,300 miles from their wintering grounds at the tip South America to their breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle. After spending my life in and around the outdoors, my primary goal is to celebrate the natural world through these kinds of stories, as told through my art.
When choosing each subject, I also consider the aesthetics of bronze as a sculptural medium. For example, the American Oystercatcher and the California Condor are incredibly interesting, but they’re also what I would call “birds with lots of character.” That is, very few people would call them handsome, which means that these birds might not seem to be ready-made art subjects. My goal is to help the public to care about them, to really see them.
Caring about something starts with familiarity. People often care about what they see every day, such as Chickadees or Goldfinches, our back-yard birds. I like sculpting those birds, too, because they start a conversation. Goldfinches are not just yellow spots in my yard. To me they look like little Easter eggs. They’re beautiful and they make me laugh.
I also choose subjects based on the characteristics of my medium. As a former fine-art foundry owner and all-around foundryman, I love working with bronze. Its elegance and endurance are evident in sculptures from the smallest, whimsical hummingbird to a fifty-foot horse and rider. When working with bronze, I want the metal to be visible and to contribute its essence to the piece. I choose birds, animals, and plants whose detailing can be replicated with coloring agents that enhance and complement the metal. For example, I might pick a less common bird—the Clark’s Grebe rather than a Western Grebe—because the Clark’s has a simpler color profile that will look more natural in the metal.
My enthusiasm for both my subjects and my medium have led to a particular style in my work. While I’m diligent about researching the birds’ anatomy and behaviors—how they act with one another, their habits, and how they live—my art pieces are not anatomical studies. They are interpretations highlighting the elements that speak to the animal’s personality as I see it. What, about a Kingfisher’s head, makes a Kingfisher so identifiable? What, about a pelican’s beak or stance, can be exaggerated to instantly capture that bird’s essence? While the average person might not know the difference between a prairie chicken and a sage-grouse—let alone the endangered Gunnison sage-grouse—by discovering the details that set them apart, and the personalities that make them who they are, I work to make them identifiable and engaging.
Every conversation with each collector—about the geese they feed in the park or the penguin they saw at the zoo—brings us closer to our natural world. Together. And each creature or plant I sculpt brings me closer to the place I love. Sculpting keeps me in the larger dialog, in the mix, in the energy of the life that is around us every day. And I believe that knowing about something, really understanding it, helps me to share it with others. And then? I hope that my work—my “conversations”—help to inspire others to take care of our world.