Thursday, May 22, 2014

Stories of the Creative Process: Wentai.

 I first met Wentai Kepera many years ago when my family visited a Maasai village called a manyata. Near the end of our visit, Lynn and the girls studied the beadwork and other handmade items for sale that women had laid out on blankets in the center of the manyata. I looked briefly, but saw few truly traditional items, so I stood back and waited patiently.
        After a few minutes, a village elder came to me and asked why I was not interested in purchasing anything. I told him I was only interested in traditional items: not Maasai key chains! (They don't traditionally have locks, and so no use for keys or key chains!) Once we understood one another, we had a good laugh and soon a friendship was born. 
        Wentai was raised in the Maasai Mara before tourism brought profound changes and totally new concepts to his people. He remembered the old ways and a few days after our first meeting, took it upon himself to walk the 5 kilometers to our tiny campsite. Wentai brought traditional items to show me and my family. He explained how and why they were used when he was a young man. We encouraged Wentai to tell us more, so he returned again and again over the course of the next several weeks. 
         Two years later, we were back in the Maasai Mara, camping again in the same spot for one month. Our friend Wentai resumed his visits; showing us how traditional sandals and drinking horns were made. As he worked with his hands, cutting and shaping sandals, I suddenly realized Wentai has an absolutely amazing face. I asked if he would return the next day and model for me. 
         My friend arrived at noon the next day (when the sun was straight overhead, his only sense of time), and I immediately set to work with feverish intensity. One hour later, dark clouds filled the sky and the temperature dropped precipitously. Suddenly, my wax became very hard and almost impossible to work. Lynn found a cooler, put hot water into water bottles and in a few minutes time I was back in business. Then it began to rain.
         At first we ignored the moisture, but as the heavens opened up and water began pouring from the sky, we moved operations into our tiny dining tent. Wentai sat, drinking tea while I worked on. As the afternoon progressed, I studied my friend with ever increasing intensity while my hands formed wax into his likeness. In order to step back and inspect my work, I was obliged to back out of the tent, into the pouring rain, and bend on one knee. After once or twice I barely even noticed. 

         Soon it was getting dark and time to finish up as best I could. Wentai rode home in our safari vehicle. I cleaned up and joined my family for dinner. The next morning, my hands were so sore and stiff I could barely fasten my shirt buttons. But, the sculpture was basically completed and I had a smile on my face.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mustang Project. How do you go about sculpting a monumental Mustang? Part V: Installation and unveiling

Rubber Mold removal.

Once I finished sculpting the Mustang in clay, it was time for the foundry to make a rubber mold and begin the lost-wax process. Casting any sculpture in bronze is a monumental undertaking and I will not try to explain it here. Suffice it to say: the Mustang's tail and mane presented many difficulties above and beyond the norm, but New Arts Foundry rose to the challenge and did a wonderful job.

 On installation day the monumental bronze Mustang arrived onsite atop a flatbed tractor trailer; everyone present was thrilled at the first glimpse of the finished sculpture!  However, shrouded in blankets as the crane lifted the sculpture high into the air, we never had a clear, unobstructed view of the finished work.   I would love to tell you that the holes were pre-drilled, we placed epoxy inside, and then simply lowered the sculpture into place. 

Bart checks the tail fit.

However, this was not the case. I arrived on site at 7:30 a.m. and was not able to leave until 11:00 p.m. It was a very, very long day, but at the end, the Mustang was secured atop his pedestal, and a giant wooden crate was lowered into place to hide him from prying eyes...

Dedication day! It began with a drum line and cheerleaders. The massive wooden crate was long gone and in its place was rainbow colored fabric whipping violently  in thirty mile per hour winds. Dignitaries from state and local governments were present alongside Stevenson University's top brass and other VIPs. Thank you's were given all around, a few short speeches were made, and then it was time to see if the wind would allow us to unveil the Mustang. None of us had yet seen it in the light of day.

 Even after all these years, I am still nervous when introducing a new sculpture. Will people like what I have done?  Will the wonderment and admiration I felt in the company of wild Mustangs be communicated in the finished sculpture? Have I done even a small measure of justice to these magnificent creatures? All these questions and many others floated through my mind as I grasped the multi-hued fabric and pulled. 

         With the help of students and VIPs, the fabric came away easily and billowed downward in the wind to reveal the sculpture.

There was a collective intake of breath, then oohs and aaas before enthusiastic applause spread throughout the crowd. The rest is all a blur. Photos and conversations followed one after another in rapid succession for the next three hours. I emerged dazed but happy. 

The dedication event was a wonderful gala introducing the bronze Mustang "Victory" to the students, faculty and staff of Stevenson University. 

Stevenson President Kevin Manning is interviewed

Bart, President Manning and the Girls Field Hockey Team


 May they and their descendants enjoy the sculpture for many generations to come.