I was prepared. My small clay models were packed into cardboard boxes set to be assembled for my presentation. My models included a whitetail stag, doe and two fawns, a black bear sow and two cubs and even an African lion and lioness. I didn’t create a maquette of the Diana the Huntress, but included a drawing of my concept. I looked forward to the next step in our meeting. Giving my thoughts and inspiration behind each of the models, the final choice was the deer group. To my delight my muse loved the feminine on the right (doe and two fawns), and the masculine on the left (the buck). She expressed a desire for them to appear as if they just walked out of the woods onto a meadow. And they were to wear garlands of flowers around their necks. I welcomed the challenge.
My task as an artist is governed by my own constraints, I will do no harm. I strive to create an object in bronze that conveys something organic, naturalistic and beautiful. Making a sculpture is hard work. But it’s fun, even exhilarating. When the clay gets to where I want it to be, I build on that tenuous perch. I carve it back, and apply more. I tend to the heated clay while sculpting to keep it just right. Not too hot and not too cool. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The hot clay burns my hands and becomes a liquid if too hot. Too warm, and it runs off the model. If it cools too much it becomes inert, hard to press onto the model. I try to be economical in my actions but it never works out that way. I go where it leads me.
Once I dove into this project my research bought to light what I had forgotten about whitetail deer. I had a pet deer as a teenager, but a long time had passed since I had a deer eating from one of my horse’s feed buckets. As a fawn he was delivered to our farm in the arms of one of the soldier’s drilling on the one weekend of the month. Not realizing he wasn’t abandoned, but placed where his mother hid him for the day, he unfortunately lost his mother and joined our little animal farm.
Sam lived in my barnyard with my horses until he grew old enough to be let out into the world. My father had built a corral eight feet tall out of half round planks for my horses. So Sam and my Arabian stallion lived together. Sam would follow you around like you were his mother, when he got older he’d head butt you much like a goat does, and play fight. Something I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do but I was a kid and didn’t know any better. After we opened the gate and let him go when the hunting season was over in the fall he was on his own. He lingered in the pastures with the other horses for a while, but strayed an ever wider range from the fenced pastures into the wild. Eventually, in the years following, he led a small band of does and kept close by in the fields behind our house. I’d ride my horse nearby and he wouldn’t leave, he’d just observe me as I passed by on the horse he grew up with. An acknowledgment of our moment that had passed with an elegant regard for each others place in this world.
I thought of Sam while I worked on my deer sculptures. Tumbling towards my youth as soon as I picked up a modeling tool, he would take me back to Camp Atterbury circa 1970. I enjoyed my time with the deer thinking of how relationships can be unearthed in the most unexpected way. Art can do this.