Becoming a sculptor

A letter to a young artist

My father was a petroleum engineer and inventor, my mother had been a voice student at the Juilliard School of Music. Creativity ran in my blood. My father had a basement workshop with all sorts of tools, so I learned how to make things - carts, benches, tree houses. In grammar school I got permission to take a shop class even though I was a girl. Remember that this was in the 1950’s, long before Title IX! I also had to take sewing and cooking, but I knew very early that I loved creating things. I wrote stories and drew pictures, and my family encouraged me.

At school it was sometimes a different story. My father and I used to watch the Friday night fights on TV and I was fascinated with the muscles the boxers had. So in 5th grade art class I made a male torso out of clay - nothing racy, just the midsection showing his muscles. The teacher sent me to the principal’s office! He thought I was too young to be thinking about "all that". It felt like a crushing blow. As you probably have realized by now, even young artists encounter opposition.

Unfortunately art and music are some of the first things schools cut when they have budget problems. Teachers who insist that you must "color inside the lines" can frustrate young artists. We think differently because we see differently, operate differently. Trying something new and challenging is exciting, but often it disturbs other people. Fortunately for the world, art is a powerful drive - it wants to come out. In me it was very persistent. I went through school, college, graduate school, marriage and had two children - but art was always there. Like Cinderella, she often lived in my brain like a poor stepsister, cleaning the fireplace. But after all, she was a princess and her true nature would emerge.

So after years of trying hard to live a conventional life as a wife, mother, and business partner in the vineyard my husband and I were establishing, I got really sick and had to leave. There was no question of returning to marriage, the farm, and for a while, my children. After some recovery time I went to art school - the famous Museum School connected with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I spent two glorious years there refining how to be a sculptor. It was like being in the world’s biggest candy store. My Cinderella had finally found her correct role and she has never looked back. Gratefully and with a lot of support I have been able to be a parent again and more recently, a grandparent.

Although I have carved stone for 38 years now, I started by taking books out of the library that had pictures of stone carving tools, teaching myself by trial and error. I loved the work of Henry Moore and the Mexican sculptor Zuniga. When I got to the Museum School they didn't have any faculty that could teach stone carving, so I badgered the head of the sculpture department. There were 5 of us students already carving stone and more or less self-taught, so the department coughed up $500 and hired 3 faculty for a semester, a different teacher coming once a week. We learned it was very important to protect our eyes, hands, ears and lungs and what kind of safety equipment to use. We learned how to forge our own tools, and we toured the large stone sculptures in the Mount Auburn Cemetary. We worked in hand-made sandbox platforms in the plaster room at the Museum School, and did a lot of laughing and carving.

And what does a sculptor produce? Anything you can think of. You are only limited by your imagination. And how do you make a living? That can be very tricky. There is a saying among artists, “don’t quit your day job”. Only about 5% of artists in the US make their living entirely on their art, so most of us have to work at something else and do art in our off-time. But creativity is a stubborn princess – eventually she will come out. How that can happen for you will be one of the great adventures of your life.