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Jerry Williams-Sculptor


Jim Kelso

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I've known Jerry Williams for quite a long time, but had not seen him or his work for more than ten years, and actually not much of it before that. We met in Duncan Doughnuts two weeks ago getting our respective coffees and ended up chatting for 40 minutes or so and exchanged e addresses and such. He mentioned carving Celtic warrior figures and an eight foot diameter table with a fire box in the middle which sounded very interesting, so I explored his web site and asked if he would send me a photo of the first warrior.

 

I was not prepared for the drama, beauty and quality of this work. Jerry says the warrior, if standing, would be about seven feet tall.

 

Barre Vermont is a primary, if not the primary, monument producing town in the country, having produced the National Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC among many, many other well known monuments. The local granite, Barre Gray, is a standard for architecture and monumental sculpture. The area is rich in history and culture aligned with this artistic industry and has spawned and attracted many fine artist/sculptors. Jerry is one of the few who have carved :) out a niche producing work apart from the monument industry.

 

Here is the Celtic warrior, in black(looks gray) and brown granite with bronze accents.

 

You can see other work of Jerry's, including my favorite the Fire Table

Here

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Hi Jim,

Wow! What a great job. Just the sculpting of the clay is a monumental ammount of work, but to then carve the piece in stone is incredible. Do you know if he uses a computer driven carving machine? There are several shops that will scan a clay sculpture and rough carve the piece in stone. The piece is then hand finished.

Dick

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 4 months later...

1st photo. Just an update on the latest granite celtic warrior. The roughing out is pretty much done and Jerry's moving on to the detailing. This shot shows Jerry (left) confering with his apprentice. You can see the granite behind the white plaster model(1/2size). The plaster was cast from a mold taken from the clay model.

 

2nd photo. Here the triangular through area(seen in the plaster above) is being removed by drilling a series of holes around it's perimeter. Granite is extremely tough and this is HARD work. A lot of the earlier roughing out was done with a diamond wire saw, much as you would do with wood with a band saw.

 

3rd photo This shows the drill. The working end is sort of like a nut-driver socket with diamond that eats the granite. The triangular area is drilled from both sides until there are enough through areas to knock it out. The granite has a grain which can work for or against you in this operation.

 

Also seen here are "points" in red which are critical reference points taken from the 1/2 size model. These can be transfered quite accurately with calipers and such from the model so the carver always has a mental picture of where he is.I think these points are within .25" of the final dimension.

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  • 7 months later...
Guest ford hallam

Hmmm,....very interesting.

 

well, I'm going to throw the cat among the pigeons. I think that this piece of sculpture very well illustrates some of the points I was just recently trying to get across.

 

There is no denying the technical skill displayed here, the details are all very faithfully rendered and as has been pointed out, this took an awful amount of sweat to produce.

 

Yet despite all of the above, I don't think the sculpture "works" very well. I find the pose to be very static, almost rigid. It doesnt convince me with this warriors presence at all. Perhaps if Tom had posed it would have been a bit more poised, and conveyed some vitality. The rather regular and neat arrangement of the limbs reminds me more of Egyptian statuary, I thought the Greeks showed us how to give life to stone when they broke free of the earlier conventions. It seems to me that this is a rendering of a lifeless mannequin not a powerful, dangerous man. I sense no strength in those large arms, they appear dull, surely they could have suggested something of their potential, rather than being shown as lumps of flesh made stone. A quick glance at the statuary of the ancient Greek ( even if most are Roman copies ) sculptors and then the Renaissance sculptors work would reveal the techniques they used to bring their figures to life.

 

Granted, the subject is an evocative one, the head is rather handsome ( in a Tom Stirling kind of way :( ) and as I've already said, the details are beautifully rendered. In the final analysis however, I think it fails because the artist has not really expressed anything through his subject. It is ultimately pedestrian and I think this is in part due to a superficial understanding of the human form.

 

It seems to me that this work is exactly what everyone seems to be so careful of avoiding, a virtuoso display of technique. As for any real depth of expression, I am unmoved.

 

If the viewer must project feeling and vitality onto a work of art then I reckon it's a fake, I expect art to effect me, I demand it! if it doesnt, then it's wasting my time. I approached this piece completely open to what it would tell me, but the longer I looked and the longer I tried to feel something being touched in me, the more disappointed I became. I daresay any effect, if any, was fleeting and ultimately too facile to develop into anything more. I feel cheated and saddened, that all this effort has not stirred my imagination, but rather has left me wanting.

 

Of course, this is only my opinion, although I trust I'm not alone in my observations and that if you do share my view your silence is due to politeness. I have no doubt there will be those of you who will take exception to my comments. I look forward to a reasoned rebuttal. :D

 

as always, I'm game ;)

 

Ford

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My feelings toward this piece run similar to your's Ford, only you've stated things more clearly than I probably could. One thing to keep in mind, as Clive mentioned once, is that it is very difficult to get a sense of sculpture via a photograph, especially the feeling of 'presence' that a large granite figure may or may not have when we're standing in front of it. Perhaps you're sensitive to it because it's using S. African stone ;) ?

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Far be it from me to speak for the artist, however, a couple of relevant points perhaps. I think Doug's point is well taken that it is difficult to judge a monumental piece so definitively in a 2d, small, pixelated context.

 

Also, not knowing the artist's aim, it's perhaps difficult to make a judgement about whether he succeeded or not. To me, it succeeds as an heroic, fantastic, operatic image.

 

It's also perhaps not useful comparing it to ancient marble sculpture. Granite is a very different material in it's coarseness that is very demanding in terms of understanding it's nature and in it's very toughness.

 

As to whether it moves one or not; such an individual, complex question!!

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Guest ford hallam

Jim.

 

I take the point that there may well be aspects of this sculpture that we can't actually see in these small images, however, my dissatisfaction with the pose remains, whether the piece is 6 inches, or 6 foot tall.

 

If we don't know the artists aim, and particularly as it's a public statue, doesn't that demonstrated that it is mute and communicates nothing to us? You claim that for you it is "an heroic, fantastic, operatic image" I suspect that you are in fact projecting those qualities onto the piece

A muscled Viking warrior gazing into the distance; such an emotion laden image, the words alone evoke the qualities you quote. Which is just as well really.... :( , Any apparent evocation is by association, as I said before, if you have to project, then you've been conned. ;) I think that if you want to see really good images of heroic, fantastic heroes then you need look no further than Marvel comics, those artists really know how to express those qualities in their characters. :D

 

I merely referred to the Greek sculptors because they were the ones who broke from the previous rigidity of the Egyptians, they began the process of developing techniques to portray the human form in a more lifelike and vital manner. My point was that this piece seemed to have missed that lesson and reminded me of the formality of the Egyptian work. Before you suggest that perhaps the artist was deliberately emulating the Egyptian style we should note that they somehow managed to create an impressive vitality in their statuary, within the restrictions of a very formalised canon.

 

With regard to the difficulties of working granite ( as opposed to marble, say ) it really is irrelevant in any aesthetic judgement. Just because it's tough shouldn't mean it scores any bonus points in any critique. Anyway, I was quite clear in saying, that technically, the sculpture is very impressive ( or words to that effect ). Evidently the artists technical skill was more than adequate to the task of shaping granite as he wished. It is the shape he chose to create that I object to.

 

Of course you are right when you say that whatever moves you, is personal. However, to fairly asses a work of art requires of us that we at least attempt to be objective and search for objective criteria of quality. This is precisely what art appreciation is about. Ultimately I suppose it may come down to whether or not you believe that there are objective criteria that can guide us. Or does it all come down to personal taste and opinion, regardless of how informed that may or may not be?

 

just more grist for the mill,

 

Ford

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Jim.

 

If we don't know the artists aim, and particularly as it's a public statue, doesn't that demonstrated that it is mute and communicates nothing to us? You claim that for you it is "an heroic, fantastic, operatic image" I suspect that you are in fact projecting those qualities onto the piece

 

 

 

Ford

 

Actually it's not a public statue, so no doubt it is an admixture of the collector's wishes and Jerry's skill and vision. Again, I'm uncomfortable speaking about this as a proxy.

 

I find it interesting that you think you can parse another's opinions such that you can separate what is felt and what is projected. I scarcely know myself! And thankfully so. All this analysis leaves my head spinning. To me, my hat's off to anyone making such a work. At the very least, it's an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, and at best, who knows? I would not begrudge anyone taking inspiration from it just because I might not. I don't believe anyone has presented it as anything other than it is.

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In the final analysis however, I think it fails because the artist has not really expressed anything through his subject. It is ultimately pedestrian and I think this is in part due to a superficial understanding of the human form.

 

Ford

 

Incidentally, one Friday afternoon I stopped in to Jerry's studio and he was teaching a student who was working on a clay bust. I was very impressed when Jerry, with a few strokes of his modeling tool, brought the face further to life by some modeling of the cheekbone. I think it betrays more than a "superficial understanding of the human form".

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Guest ford hallam
no doubt it is an admixture of the collector's wishes and Jerry's skill

So are you suggesting that the commissioner actually wanted the figure to have such a lifeless posture? ;)

 

I find it interesting that you think you can parse an other's opinions such that you can separate what is felt and what is projected. I scarcely know myself! And thankfully so.

Jim, I offered my opinion about this piece and then further provided my reasoning and some explanation. You have not offered us any explanation for your assessment of the sculpture as being superb, nor any hint as to what about it provokes the response you claim. As I can't see what might be eliciting this feeling in you I said I suspected you were projecting. I may be wrong, if so tell us why, this is what this kind of discussion is all about, isn't it?

 

To me, my hat's off to anyone making such a work. At the very least, it's an honest day's pay for an honest day's work,

Whether or not it's an honest days labour is again utterly irrelevant in terms of an aesthetic judgement, as is your respect for that effort.

 

I would not begrudge anyone taking inspiration from it just because I might not.

People are of course free to find inspiration wherever they please, I was merely pointing out that I felt there are some serious shortcoming to this present work. After all, why not find the most excellent examples for your inspiration.?

 

I don't believe anyone has presented it as anything other than it is

You presented it as a superb sculpture! I don't think it is...I've tried to present my view. If you don't agree, then at least have the courtesy to offer some explanation for your view.

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Guest ford hallam
I was very impressed when Jerry, with a few strokes of his modeling tool, brought the face further to life by some modeling of the cheekbone. I think it betrays more than a "superficial understanding of the human form".

 

We'll have to take your word and judgement on whether your friend is a gifted artist when it comes to modelling heads. But, be that as it may, we are talking about a sculpture of a human figure, not a portrait study or bust. These are two very distinct things. The two are not really comparable at all. There are many excellent portrait artists who will readily admit their lack of ability when it comes to rendering the whole body. . It is specifically this lack of expression in the sculptures body that is at the root of my dissatisfaction.

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You guys are tearing my heart apart. The discussion is becoming too personal. Please step back and give it a rest. Critique the piece, not the personal responses to it.

 

Statements that point out that the musculature is disproportionate to the skeletal frame, the hands are too large, the proportion of parts to parts. Angle of the head, pent up energy in the muscles vs. static pose...

 

Each of us will have a different emotional response. That is not what we should be critiquing here. Focus on the work, identify with words what it is that might have made the sculpture better.

 

Constructive criticism please!

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Well y'know I can see merit in both sides of this debate. I'm good (or possibly afflicted ;) ) with that ability.

 

It's obvious that Mr. Williams has a thorough understanding of human anatomy, but that's no cause for props in a figurative sculptor. It's like saying a classical composer has a thorough understanding of theory and harmony-- it's to be expected.

 

What Ford sees as rigidity and a lack of expresstve qualities might also be interpreted as deliberate formalism. I don't find any real similarity to Egyptian formalism in it. But this is still an idealized figure and could be said to represent the very qualities attributed to idealized Vikings. At least in the popular imagination, Vikings were not terribly expressive guys unless they were berserking.

 

Bird carvers talk a lot about the importance of capturing "essence of species" in their work. It could be said that Williams was after "essence of Viking." But it could also be said that the piece is just a cliche. The sculpture of a "hawk" at Williams's website-- it isn't a hawk, it's a falcon-- exhibits some of the same qualities. Compare it to the sculptures of falcons (among other subjects) at this site:

 

Ross Matteson

 

Admittedly, direct work in granite is a different matter than cast work in bronze or silver. But Matteson's falcons, despite having very little detail, have much more life in them (and for that matter, have more life in them than most hyperdetailed bird carvings in wood). Which brings me to what I think is a major aesthetic flaw in Williams's falcon, and his Viking.

 

He has sacrificed form, flow and dynamics to details. There is no reason why this must be done in granite. It's a deliberate choice on Williams' part. It's almost like he's saying, "Granite is a bitch to work-- but look what I can do with it!" His squib sidebar about Daniel Chester French's distaste for granite confirms that.

 

And true enough, Williams can do a lot with it, given the difficulty of working this material. I can certainly see the same admirable qualities in it that Jim does. But I can also see the same flaws Ford does, and overall, am more inclined to a view similar to his.

 

Technically, the piece is a roaring success. Aesthetically, it isn't.

 

Different strokes.

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Kathleen, I am pointing to the bigger picture here. I do not and did not wish for you to censor yourself, nor did I ask you to. You do have a way of encouraging one to examine one's self.

 

What you wrote stirred a response in myself, because, like Jim, I put my work and my self into public scrutiny. It is not an easy place to be when the work of a year or two is there to be evaluated. Fortunately, those venues are mostly encouraging. Human face to face interchange has a protocol that in such a venue, the audience does not make an effort to exchange dialog of constructive or destructive criticism. There are quieter times when artist to artist exchanges of that nature do occur, but it remains quiet and instructive.

 

The audience does have an effect on an artist though. Thousands of people walk by, many are kind and supportive, but when few or none vote with their wallet, there is cavernous room for self doubt and fear for future solvency, and where the path leads for the work to come.

 

My lifestyle and income-producing path has not put my work into a situation that asks for constructive criticism, and I don't know where to find it other than TCP. My husband is my critic, as am I my own. When I go public, I hope for encouragement, and if needed, constructive suggestions for improvement.

 

On another hand, I hope that when ever I do feel moved to speak about the work of others, to the artist, I hope that my critique is an asset to one's growth. It is a delicate dance.

 

 

 

When we sit at a keyboard, without interruption from conversations, a whole lot more can be thought about and expressed. This method of communication is a great tool, since we are all in hugely different parts of the world and can share our thoughts with one another. I do hope that we can all remain connected through TCP, and through this forum to help one another to grow. We all have different experiences, different talents and abilities to bring to this forum. I have a tendency to think well of everyone, and try to encourage that here. It can be done, and the wobblies in a piece can still be pointed out without challenging the personalities of the members by focusing on what might be strong or weak of the object in question.

 

I hope for a good resolution to this current topic.

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Guest ford hallam
Vikings were not terribly expressive guys unless they were berserking.

 

Musket, I have a few drops of Viking blood running in my veins ( who'd have guessed :rolleyes: ), so I must disagree. My avatar is in fact a Viking portrayal of Thor, the God of thunder.

Perhaps in the popular imagination Vikings were surly, unresponsive brutes, but if we consider their very strong oral tradition, their storytelling competitions and poetry etc, I think we get a different view of these sensitive, brave and inquisitive seafarers :D . The tales that have come down to us of their Gods are also very revealing with regard to the Viking psyche.

 

It was probably that stoic protrayal of "Erik the Red" ( I think ) by Kirk Douglas that has so misrepresented these terribly misunderstood fellows. :D

 

but I digress...

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Hi,

I wasn't going to get into this but having taught art for 40 years at both High School and University levels I have made a lot of critical comments to students. I have also been a professional artist for all of that time and have been on the other side of the coin. With out getting into any of the aesthetics of the matter just the tone of criticism. I think Ford has a tendency to be a bit harsh and over the top in his comments. The Viking obviously hit a nerve. That said, I personally would love to have him close enough to drop by and critique my work in progress. As critical as possible. His critique is thoughtful and honest. You couldn't ask for more.

Dick (formally known as "ERB".)

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