Davisite creates bronze tribute to dam builders
“Puddler’s Lunch Break,” a bronze statue of two Hoover Dam workers swapping stories, was created by artist Sutton Betti, who was born and raised in Davis. The monument was installed in 2009 in Boulder City, Nev. Courtesy photo
“What is all the fuss about?”
Those were not the words artist Sutton Betti had in mind when sculpting “Puddler’s Lunch Break,” a monument in Boulder City, Nev. However, the statue created a lot of controversy when it was installed a couple of years ago in this small town 20 miles southeast of Las Vegas and home of the second largest dam in the United States.
The monument was created to honor the workers of Hoover Dam — known as puddlers — whose job it was to pour and smooth layer upon layer of concrete in what would be, at the time, the tallest dam in the world.
The statue came with an expensive price tag and many Boulder City residents were upset that the project happened despite budget cuts. But the classically inspired sculpture, which educates the many tourists who visit Hoover Dam, eventually won over the critics.
Sutton Betti, born and raised in Davis, is the artist who created “Puddler’s Lunch Break,” a monument showing two workers telling stories during a lunch break while building the dam.
“Although these guys lived during the Great Depression, they were not unhappy people as they were the lucky few who had jobs,” Betti said. “I wanted to show them happy.”
Now living in Colorado, the artist makes his home in Loveland, one of the world’s largest exporters of bronze sculpture. Although a small city of about 70,000 people, Loveland houses more sculptors per capita than any U.S. city and is known as the gateway to the Rockies.
With four bronze foundries, a stone quarry and dozens and dozens of independent specialists in the bronze business, Loveland is a unique city for a sculptor to live and work in.
Betti said he finds comfort in being surrounded by many of the nation’s most notable sculptors, including Jane Dedecker, George Lundeen and Kent Ullberg.
“These are artists whom I’ve admired for many years,” he said in a news release, “artists who have created monuments all over the United States. And now that I live here I get to learn from them and see how they work.”
Betti’s work is classical, and he has an appreciation of the old masters that goes back to his teenage years, when he received a book on Michelangelo from his grandmother.
He remembers traveling to Italy to study marble carving from master stone carvers and developing a deep appreciation of this ancient tradition.
“It was as if what was being taught to me was something that will soon be forgotten and these were men who were carrying on their backs hundreds of years of knowledge in marble carving,” Betti said.
In fact, many of the master craftsmen spoke unfavorably of the influence of modern and abstract art as if it were one of the reasons behind the loss of interest in stone carving, Betti said.
Until the turn of the 20th century, sculptors would hire these skilled artisans to create their monuments in stone. But today, with an influx of different abstract and modern art styles, these men are hard to find as they are not needed as much.
“The human figure in art, up until the late 19th/early 20th century, was very common,” Betti said. “After the impressionists came about, that all changed.”
Although Betti was surrounded by abstract and modern art for most of his life, he found something more meaningful and challenging in creating a realistic portrayal of the human body.
“There is so much freedom and expressiveness that can be created in a human figure, once you learn the basics of anatomy,” he said.