Saturday, January 23, 2010

New York sculptor-in-residence

With a legacy of life-size bronze sculptures dotting the national landscape, New York artist and sculptor Brian Maughan has a reputation set in stone. Misty, the beloved horse from the classic children’s book frolics on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington while a stallion stomps on Brookside Farms 20 miles west in Versailles. The 7½-foot statues of baseball greats Hank Aaron and Robin Yount pose in front of Miller Park in Milwaukee as Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr greets visitors to the Resch Center in Green Bay. Other works are spread over Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Charlottesville.

In 2006, Maughan’s partner, Marie Hertzler, was an adjunct professor teaching French and commuting on the New York subway to various colleges and universities. When she was offered a full-time position at Wright State University, they came out to explore Dayton and possible sites for their new home.

“The Oregon District seemed remotely interesting,” said Maughan in a recent interview, “but it hasn’t really got a central community.” Oakwood and other suburbs didn’t hold much appeal. “Then somebody suggested we look at Yellow Springs,” Maughan recalled. “It looked like mecca.”

There will be a chance to show the happy couple they chose right when Maughan displays his work at an art opening in conjunction with Art Stroll on Friday, June 20, at the new Yellow Springs Arts Council gallery at 108 Dayton Street, second floor.

Unfortunately, the 900-pound Hank Aaron won’t be in attendance. However Maughan will be showing pieces from his smaller, more mobile ceramic sculpture collection. If you can’t attend the opening, be sure to visit the bathroom at the Yellow Springs train station where one of Maughan’s paintings will be featured as part of the 2008-2009 ChamberPot Gallery collection.

“The theme this year is ‘Beasts in the Bathroom,’” Maughan said with a mischievous smile. “I could hardly miss.”

Sketches and sculptures of horses and bulls dominate Maughan’s work in addition to the Greek mythological creature, the Minotaur. Half man, half bull, the Minotaur speaks to Maughan in a way he finds biographically deep.

“I grew up in western Canada,” he explained, recalling as a very young child being fascinated by the cows and bulls on a neighboring farm. Images of his rural upbringing and influences by great artists such as Picasso and Rodin pepper his work. “I thought of the Minotaur as a symbol for growing up awkward,” he said.

Although they had just gotten married in ’06, he and his muse celebrated their new life by renewing their vows at The Corner Cone’s “Summer of Love” group marriage and renewal ceremony last June. Then, in July, he teamed up with friend Eddie Eckenrode and Frank Williams to present “The Old Guys’ Art Show” at Sam & Eddie’s Open Book Gallery.

Maughan continues to divide his time between his Yellow Springs home and his Manhattan studio. The culture shock that occurs traveling from one environs to the other, however, still gives him pause.

“The most agonizing part in both directions is the going,” he explained. “For instance, right now, I’m sitting here in this garden, the sun is out, it’s beautiful. The birds are chirping, if I want to walk downtown, I can. I have a studio set up. What the hell am I going to New York for? There’s a lot of cars and noise and cement. Then as soon as I get there I think, ‘Wow, this is the greatest place.’” After his scheduled time in New York is through, he’ll realize he has to get back to Yellow Springs. “I’ll think, ‘What the hell am I going to Yellow Springs for?’” Maughan laughed. “‘Where is it—in Ohio?!?’ Then I get here and after a couple of days, I’ll think, ‘Wow, this is so cool. I can go down and see Kurt [Miyazaki] at The Emporium, go see Eddie [Eckenrode] at Sam & Eddie’s…’”

The differences between the Big Apple and the Little Springs provide as much value as the similarities.

“There’s a whole lot of people packed onto the island of Manhattan,” he said. “You go out any time night or day and there are people out on the street, something is going on. There’s a lull between 4 and 5 a.m. In Yellow Springs, it gets quiet much earlier.”

The similarities start with the New York neighborhoods, specifically the East Village, where he spent the last 10 years.

“In the East Village, everything is locally owned,” he said. “The shopkeepers are there every day. They own their little laundry, their coffee stand, their little corner grocery. Most people’s notions are that New Yorkers are cold and unfriendly. That’s not true. If you go to the same coffee shop three or four times in a row, you’re a person who goes to that coffee shop. If you do it for a year, you’re in the family. There’s a farmer’s market. People in New York take the subway and the bus and cabs but if you’re going five or ten blocks, you walk. There’s a familiarity in the neighborhoods. Like going to The Emporium—you’re going to meet somebody you know and can talk to.”

Maughan’s work is divided as well between his own inspired art and commissioned work. Both can be seen on his website at One of his commissioned works was to sculpt a set of four bronze bulldogs as a tribute to a client’s former pets. Although at first Maughan could hardly tell the difference between the dogs in the photographs he was given as a guide, after a year of crafting the clay forms, plaster models, rubber impressions, wax forms and bronze casts, he became intimately familiar with each dog’s distinct markings and personality. When he drove the finished bronze creations to the owner’s palatial estate, the gatekeeper saw the sculptures in the car and immediately—and correctly—identified each replica.

“I grew in our combined effort,” Maughan said of the commission. “I can gain from [the client’s] enthusiasm and love for these animals. It makes me not only a better sculptor but gives me a broader perspective.”

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.