Monday, September 7, 2009

Clayton Bright

{An Island Sculptor}

A few days ago P. and I came across Clayton Bright, a well-known sculptor who makes Little Cranberry Island his home and studio in the summer. I've been in love with his life-like cast-fiberglass sheep (below) since the moment I laid eyes on them, and I was eager to meet the man behind their whimsy and anatomical fastidiousness.

So after swooning over his sheep, which keep watch over a little slip of meadow on the far side of the island, it was with pure delight that we came across Clayton by chance just a few days ago while on a walk about the island. He was wearing ancient, salt-encrusted combat boots and paint-splattered lobsterman's pants, and he was carrying a bucket of flowering monkshood, which he had dug up from a friends garden and was now on his way to transplant outside his studio. He described in avuncular detail how the monkshood flowers were the perfect purply-blue for still life paintings, and I couldn't help but wonder if I'd just met the reincarnation of Andrew Wyeth, who likewise explored the rough beauty of Maine through his art. Clayton invited us to his studio, which, of course, was absolutely fascinating.

Above is a small-scale clay model Clayton is making of his son's head. You can see his incredibly precise calculations he uses in the picture below, which helps him get the anatomy right. He measures, for instance, the distance from one corner of the mouth to the other on his son's face, then uses a ratio formula to calculate what the distance should be on the small clay sculpture. Holy smokes, is what I thought.

Clayton's story is pretty interesting; he was born outside Philadelphia in 1946 and spent his childhood around animals, which feature largely in his body of work. After high school he enlisted in the Army and served with a long-range reconnaissance team in the jungles of Vietnam during the war. After he was discharged he hitchhiked from Singapore to London, and eventually made his way back to the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania. Clayton made his first bronze sculpture of his neighbor's milk cow after his return from Vietnam, and since then has become a well-known figurative sculptor.

Here's another small clay sculpture by Clayton, this one of his daughter. Eventually he will remake them in a larger scale and cast them in bronze. (Don't you love the little collection of island treasures on the beam behind her?)

Clayton has been spending summers on Little Cranberry Island for over forty years, and Maine life has clearly inspired a very spartan, rustic studio. He designed a trap-door and pulley system over a series of skylights so that he can control the light in the studio, but otherwise it is very Yankee, very utilitarian and refreshingly no-frills, which immediately made me want to go home and Yankify my studio. I can't help but think that all that STUFF in my studio must, on some level, impede progress, artistically. Anyway, what a treat to meet Clayton and see his work and studio. He's a lovely, incredibly bright, fascinating character and I can't wait to get down to his metal-working studio on his farm in Pennsylvania once of these days to see his big animal sculptures.


  1. YAY! you're back! love this post. love you. excellent!

  2. Hello my traveling friend! How fun, to see a bit of your journey. Those sheep are delightful!


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