In mid-September of this year my life size bronze sculpture of a saluting Air Force Sergeant was delivered and installed at American Veterans Park in West Point, Nebraska. The saluting sculpture is permanently installed on a grey granite base and is the 7th large scale sculpture that I have at the quarter acre park, with three more left to sculpt. The 6 foot tall bronze statue is dedicated to all active soldiers and veterans but it is also dedicated to Bernie Hunke, a long time resident of West Point, veteran, active community member, husband and father. Bernie had modeled for the sculpture a couple of months before he tragically passed away. The sculpture is significant in this town of around 3500 because of who Bernie was and what he did for the community.
American Veterans Park was first conceived a few years ago. I was first contacted to create the sculptures that would eventually honor all branches of the military back in late 2016. The first installation was a life size bronze bald eagle titled “Freedom Wings” that is cantilevered 17 feet in the air on one of three 20 foot tall grey granite columns and has come to represent the park. With the large American flag flying just above and red, white and blue lights shining on her at night it is a spectacular site to see. It is unique, beautiful and makes me feel grateful for my involvement in this beautiful project honoring all veterans of the military.
Since the end of December 2018 I’ve been working on this bareback bronc sculpture for a wonderful client out of Pueblo, Colorado. The initial plans were for this 1/2 life size sculpture to be placed at Roselawn Cemetery in Pueblo. But my client decided to instead have it placed in downtown Pueblo right next to a local business on a plot of land she purchased. Of course, to have any sculpture permanently installed anywhere is a great privilege, but having one installed in the heart of a downtown and part of their scene makes it so much more special. This 300 lb bronze sculpture will be mounted on top of two tons of sandstone which is quarried out of Masonville, a 10 minute drive from my studio. The project honors my clients husband from when he used to bareback bronc ride in the 1950’s and was inspired by a photograph from that time.
On July 23, 2017 I was asked to do designs of saluting US Air Force sculptures, both male and female. The planning committee at American Veterans Park wanted to get a sense of all of the statues that will be installed over the next 2-3 years.
My initial designs had the sculptures as active duty pilots, holding their pilot helmet in left hand and saluting with their right. They were wearing their flight suits and had a similar look and feel to a sculpture I had sculpted a few years prior, WWII Tuskegee Airman, Joe Gomer.
In the end, the sculpture that was decided on was a middle aged sergeant saluting. The sculpture which I am now finishing up was inspired by the late Bernie Hunke, a West Point, NE US Air Force veteran. Bernie was on the planning committee at AVP and had modeled for the future sculpture sometime in 2018 with in-the-round photos (something that I create for all of my statues). Although the sculpture isn’t a likeness of Bernie, it does have elements of his posture, body proportions and uniform based off of the photos that were taken of him in the pose. An unfortunate accident had taken Bernie’s life so this sculpture will have so much special meaning to his family and to the West Point community.
Since 2017 I have been filling my time between making small maquettes and large monuments by creating portrait plaques. This all started when I got an email from a woman in Southern California who lost her son and wanted to honor him with a bronze plaque. She had seen some of my reliefs on the internet and had decided to reach out to me. And so began my journey creating bronze portrait plaques.
Although I had been sculpting in relief for many years I had only started to really “get it” in 2011 when I began pushing the boundaries with what I thought possible with relief. Most of this new discovery was playing with techniques I’d learned from when I was learning painting in art school and applying them to relief sculpting.
When sculpting in relief you are dealing with such a flat surface that the differences between 1/16 of an inch or less can make or break a likeness. There needs to be a steady hand and a critical eye and for the 6-8 hours it takes me to sculpt a likeness I am fully focused on the task at hand. No phone calls, no internet time, very little interruptions and full throttle on the challenging task at hand.
There are many little tips that one day I will teach to those interested in learning. But, in short, good relief work is done from practice, practice, practice.
In late 2005 I made the decision to move from beautiful Santa Barbara, California to be in the well known arts community of Loveland, Colorado. I had visited Loveland a month before deciding to move here and I immediately fell in love with the Colorado outdoors, the smiling faces (something that is a rare sight in Southern California) and importantly the close knit and well known sculpture community that is Loveland. I continued doing work for a sculptor in California by creating clay sculptures in Loveland and delivering the originals to her home in Santa Barbara (yes, that was a long long drive). But this quickly got to be a difficult working relationship and so I had to say goodbye and I began to look for work in Colorado. My very first job was helping a sculptor finish a large scale monument that the artist had been working on for 14 years!! I then found work as a lead sculpting assistant in downtown Loveland for a well known sculptor. For the first time as an assistant I was responsible for just about every task in an artists studio; clay enlargement, mold making, wax pouring and chasing, welding, metal chasing, patinas, keeping the shop clean, meeting and greeting clients, mold storage count, making sure the swamp cooler worked properly for the upcoming hot season (which in Colorado is nothing compared to where I was from). Although the pay wasn’t very good, I took tremendous pride in my work and the opportunity to learn so many aspects of bronze sculpture. I was very happy.
Although I had been working as a sculptor’s assistant in California for different artists for about 9 years, I had not been trained in so many different aspects of the business until moving to Loveland. This was an experience that was fairly new to me and I fell in love with sculpture all over again. Within 2 years of working in Loveland I was handed an opportunity for a public art competition by my boss. The city of Boulder City, NV was looking for a life size bronze sculpture that could tell a visual story about Hoover dam. The sculpture would be a part of their collection of public art relating to Hoover dam. I took this opportunity to heart and researched my next sculpture. I posed for photos myself as I couldn’t afford a model and created a small maquette that I titled “Puddler’s Lunch Break”. The sculpture was designed to break the myth that workers were buried alive during the building of Hoover dam, which was only a myth. Two “puddler’s” are on a lunch break exchanging stories and the message that I hoped to get across was that although Hoover dam was built during the Great Depression, these two men were happy because they had work unlike most people during this time. The small sculpture landed me my first life size outdoor commission. Something I had been trying to do for the past 9 years but to no success.
Since my first commission in 2008 I have had many highs and lows of being in business as a sculptor, but I have ALWAYS been grateful for this community. The openness of artists and crafts people that are here has been an absolute treasure that makes this town unique. There are three foundries within 10 minutes of each other and a handful of “independents” that specialize in each step of the casting process. I know just about everyone of them and have given just about every one of them work. Everyone I have encountered and worked with has been tremendously supportive and helpful. It is a town that has art pulsating through it’s inner veins and it’s unique history as an arts destination makes it one of a kind throughout the world. A place like no other because of the people that are here. The artists, the foundries, the craftsmen and women, the lovers of art and the younglings who aspire to be an artist. It is this attitude and uniqueness that was shown to me when I first came here and I hope that Loveland, Colorado continues to be the unique arts community that most people know and love for many years to come.
Last month on November 11 we unveiled American Veterans Park in West Point, Nebraska. Lieutenant Governor of Nebraska Mike Foley was there, as were hundreds of people that braved the cold, including my mom, step dad and brother all the way out from California. The park is still not completed as we are waiting for funding for the last 4 statues, two life size statues and two large scale reliefs. Even without the final sculptures plus a few granite columns, the site was very well received. This veterans park will be, for the remainder of my life, one of the highlights of my sculpting career. When it’s all done there will be 10 of my sculptures permanently installed here. There is also a couple of small details that were included at the site in my dads honor that I will cherish for a long time.
This year we permanently installed two sculptures, Gold Star Wife and Returning Home. Next year I plan to install Remembering and Saluting Air Force Sergeant.
Today, Dave Dedecker of Sculpture Services of Colorado power washed and hot waxed two of my sculptures in Fort Collins and Loveland, not too far from each other. Master Swimmer is located at EPIC in Fort Collins, Colorado and Sowing Seeds at Mountain View Presbyterian Church in Loveland.
It is recommended that every year or two a good cleaning and wax is applied to outdoor sculpture, depending on their location to renew the sculptures to their original look. Over time the wax will thin out exposing the lacquer and patina surface of a bronze, which if gone uncared for any further will begin to oxidize the surface of the bronze. Today, with the weather warming up to the mid 60’s it was a perfect day for some TLC.
Recently I returned from Nebraska where we installed my sculpture “Returning Home”. I also set up a donation booth during the Last Fling Til Spring car show at the entrance to American Veterans Park with my life size Gold Star Wife and Remembering. The intent was to help raise money for the final stage of the park in which I have two more statues to make and two large scale reliefs. I was fortunate to have some help manning the booth as there were a lot of people at the car show and I got to meet some really neat people.
One of the more challenging sculptures I’ve created is finally completed and ready to be installed. Returning Home required many hours of research into many areas, including desert camo uniforms, patches, folds of different fabrics, compositional balance and how a “jump hug” should look when a child is also hugging you.
Now that the sculpture is done, I can look back and say yes, how much time and effort one puts into research can equal the success of a work of art. For me, Returning Home is a success. Of course, you have to apply the research and not skip over little details. But generally, if you have a good idea with a generally good composition, the artwork can be made really good with attention to the little details.
For example; the US flag patch on the mans right shoulder. Seems like a small detail (and it is) but it is a really important one. I learned that the flag appears backwards on his right shoulder because it is important that the stars (and therefore the flagpole) face forward. This shows that the soldiers are going into battle. How? The idea that when you are walking or running towards the wind, it is assumed that you are going into or facing a challenge. And if you do this holding a flagpole, the stars would be facing the direction you are going as they are the closest to the pole. If the stars face the opposite direction, it would symbolize running away from or in the opposite direction of the wind (assuming the wind speed is greater than the running speed). So if a US flag patch were worn on the left shoulder, as compared to the right, the stars should be facing the left side of flag and front of the soldier. So in short, this flag patch is meant to be worn ONLY on the right shoulder.
The little details, such as this, may seem small, but when you are working on long lasting, bronze sculpture, details go a long way.