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  • Writer's pictureDavid

Champagne or Worms?

bronze august clown seated dejectedly on a pedestal  where his feet don't reach the floor

Whenever I sculpt a new piece my creative ego vacillates broadly between periods of self-confidence and intense skepticism. One moment it’s, “I’m nailing this thing! Pop the champagne!”, and the next, “This is all wrong. Everybody hates me. I’m going to go eat worms.”. I’ve lived with myself my whole life, so it’s nothing to despair over. I know it’s part of my process of making something I want to see.

The potential that a whole idea will be scrapped is always there, but it's more often that the form is just struggling to become an object of interest. I know the image is doable, and likely worth doing, but getting there, from a chunk of wax, is the problem. And of course, one’s interest is a somewhat fluid concept. An idea may be interesting one moment, and not at all the next. Our interests are satiable, and transient. I guess it's sort of like watching a movie, and then pausing the picture. (And a sculpture is more or less a paused picture, in the round.) However much we might love a movie scene, it's likely we will want to press play after a few seconds. But there are those paused images in a movie that say something that we can stare at repeatedly and for quite a long time without losing interest, and that maybe is what the sculptor’s job is. To capture that image that doesn’t leave you wanting to press “play”. Like Forest Gump sitting on the bus-stop bench. It still means something in the still.

In my work, I try not only to find that still image, but to also create an image that cannot be found by any camera, to make something that does not exist anywhere else. In my most

cowboy on horseback leading a pack string of mules around a tight inside corner of a rocky trail on a very steep hillside
Although not the missing photo, this is of Granddad Emory and his pack string in Hell's Canyon.

recent horse piece, unlike most of my pieces, the inspiration was a known thing to me. The idea was born of a specific image that I had seen. And more specifically, a certain photograph that was carried around in a cigar box by my grandfather, from when it was taken in the 1930s until sometime around the time of his passing’s in 1996.

This image, (which has gone missing now, onto 25 years), was captured in the lower Imnaha country in Wallowa County, Oregon. In it, my grandfather stands with his pack string of mules, each loaded with a cargo of two lambs, one on either side of the pack saddle, suspended by a rope sling that looped from just behind the front legs to just in front of the rear legs, much as a child might carry a kid-friendly cat. The photo was among the most amazing images I’ve seen from that time and place. And from its memory, I created Lightning Creek Horse.

Horse becomes ark in my piece, and the lambs, rather than being roped to a pack saddle, are more or less tourists of the outback, going for a joy ride. The concept of horse as

uncast sculture in wax of a horse where the midsection is an actual open bag holding 2 lambs draped over the edge like a dog hanging out a car window facing left
uncast sculpture of a horse in wax with very long neck and the midsection is actually  an open mouth bag holding 2 lambs hanging over the sides, horse facing right
Lightning Creek Horse in wax

ark is a pretty

easy leap for me, but getting the right attitude in the animals’ expressions was a bit challenging. I wanted the horse to be somewhat amused, as I am at the scenario, and the lambs needed to be very simple, both in their figure and in their minds, if indeed lambs have minds.

From fanciful ideas that just

happen on paper, to ideas that come from an event or an image I have seen, the challenge seems the

same. In order to justify the time and effort it takes to make a concept into a physical thing, there needs to be more there than what I get by just hitting the pause button. I think I have to get discouraged, then re-engaged, maybe several times over, to find the right place to call it good. If I’ve done it right, I can still find some satisfaction in the image after having spent days, weeks, and sometimes months, deeply engaged in its becoming.

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