In the early days of project planning when I was still looking for people to interview, I contacted a few people on a whim. My reaching out was a bit haphazard and often based on hunches; there were some places I knew I wanted to go and I would do seemingly random searches related to that place that would sometimes give me something good, and sometimes not. In one of my fishing expeditions I found the Sedona Artists Coalition. I dug through their website to find the email for the president and sent her an email. I introduced my project and explained that I was looking for artists that fit my criteria. She sent me the names of several artists, John being one of them.
I was happy to discover that he is a bronze sculptor. I know very little about this medium and it’s always been a mystery to me. My aunt’s father-in-law was the well-known sculptor, Charles Parks, but I never lived near him and I met him only a few times, so I never had the opportunity to discuss his work with him. Even if I had I’m not sure what I would have asked. His work is so big and a bit beyond my comprehension. He passed away in 2012 and I am now I’m a little sad that I never had the occasion to learn more about bronze from him while he was alive. For this reason, I was happy to meet and interview John and to expand my understanding of bronze sculpture.
During my interview with John one of the things about bronze sculpture I became fascinated with is the long-term commitment by the artist to individual pieces. (I will learn that this is a necessary quality for all sculptors.) I thought I did pretty good on long-term projects, but I have nothing on bronze sculptors. John will often spend years on one individual piece. When I asked him how he sustains his devotion to one piece for so long, he was somewhat baffled by the question and responded by comparing it to marriage: “Some people are naturally monogamous, others aren’t.” He also talked of being so caught up in working on a piece that whole nights would disappear without a trace. So, fidelity to one piece for long periods of time is something he clearly enjoys.
Bronze sculpture will last quite possibly thousands of years. With that John feels a sense of responsibility in how he chooses and represents his projects and subject matter. John will make changes and various modifications until he feels his representation is true. He shared one story of when he was working on a sculpture of the Paiute Shaman, Wovoka. He worked on the piece for over three years and in that time made hundreds of small changes and nine faces. He would finish one version of his face and then cut it off because it wasn’t right. After John had finished the fifth version of Wovoka’s face he thought it was done and then created the mold. He cast several sculptures, and actually sold them, but realized it still wasn’t right. He destroyed the mold and went back to work. Four more faces, then it was done.
As I reviewed John’s work on his website I experienced equal parts of glee, wonder, and reverence. The wide variety of themes he incorporates is a reflection of his just as varied experiences as a child. John had an unusual childhood living all over Asia while his father worked as a civil engineer. When I asked him about some of his memories from childhood he told me his earliest memories are of traveling around India and Europe. His parents exposed him to the some of the world’s most famous art on those trips. He recalled that when he was about 5 years old they were at the Vatican and his mother held him up to touch the feet of the statue of Moses a moment that left an indelible mark on him. He remembered with fondness his first painting when he was about 4 years old, a Persian kitten which resembled a “ball of cotton with big eyes,” he laughed. However silly it was, even to him now, it was clearly the beginning of his life as artist. In addition to being exposed to world famous art, growing up abroad he was also exposed to more religions and ideas than the average American kid. Looking at his work you will find representation of Christianity, Buddhism, Shamanism, and mythology.
John describes himself as an “artist, teacher, and service worker.” He teaches workshops out of his gallery, which also serves as his studio. He clearly gets a lot of joy out of helping people discover their talent and drive to create. As he described this work, I felt that it overlapped with his service work, which is also an important part of his life and has includes a wide array of activities volunteering his time, raising money, donating artwork, serving on boards - his list of service-related activities is a long one! While describing to me how he came to bronze sculpture he told me that it was like coming home. After the interview if feels like it’s not only sculpture, but the triad of being an “artist, teacher, and service worker” that brought him home.