Category: Sculpture

Ben Hammond: Religious Bas-Relief


Ben Hammond is a sculptor from the tiny rural town of Pingree, Idaho. He discovered sculpture in college and apprenticed with famed sculptor Blair Buswell for many years. He now creates commissions and gallery pieces from his studio in Utah. He and his wife are expecting their fourth child. Regarding his art, Hammond explains, “Some of my deepest feelings have a hard time being articulated through words, so I create art. I hope that the viewer can sense what is most important to me when they see my work. I don’t try to hide any secret meaning in my art. Each piece is deeply personal, yet universal.”


You work in different mediums. What do you like about bas-relief? I took a trip to New England in 2005 to visit the studios of some of the great early American sculptors like Augustus St. Gaudens and Daniel Chester French. I was overwhelmed by their ability to sculpt the figure, create portraiture, and execute bas-relief [or low relief]. I figured that if I ever wanted to be a great sculptor, I needed to become proficient at all three as well. I soon found that bas-relief is one of the more tricky mediums in the sculpture field. I took several workshops with other artists including Eugene Daub and Stanley Bleifeld in order to try and master relief sculpture. I’ve been doing it since 2006 and feel that I’m starting to get pretty good at it…that is until I see a masterpiece done by another artist of days past and realize I still have a ways to go.

You do a lot of religious imagery. Is that spiritually or commercially driven–or both? It’s definitely not commercially driven. Most really religious people are generally frugal, which is fine. I am too. (Except when it comes to art.) Sometimes I capture something that even frugal art-loving people can’t live without. I do have a few wealthy religious art-loving collectors, and they help keep my family fed as well, but most of my religious pieces are something I have to create at the time. It’s on my mind and in my heart and I can’t move forward until I do it.

The Church has had a number of famous sculptors over the years, but do you feel sculpture is underrepresented within the Church? I can think of the series in Nauvoo, on Temple Square, and at BYU–but not much else. YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think that sculpture still has a very ‘Engraven Image’ stigma tied to it in the church. It definitely doesn’t find itself in temples, churches, or church publications very often and therefore ever feel approved for consumption by church members. The Laie, Hawaii and the Oakland temples both have beautiful relief sculpture facades and I can’t figure out why they don’t do that more often. Sculpture really lends itself to architecture, like you see in all the beautiful churches in Europe, but maybe they want to avoid that appearance. I don’t know. Maybe they worry people will worship idols if there is more great sculpture around.

Visit Ben Hammond’s website.

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Alex Rane: Sculpture in the South Bronx

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Alex Rane is a sculptor working in the mediums of bronze, clay, and his main focus marble. He graduated with a BFA in sculpture from the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts where he studied anatomy and the figure. Upon graduating, Rane shifted his focus to figurative sculpture with an emphasis on marble. He was selected to compete in the National Sculpture Society Competition as well as the LDS International Art Competition–where he received the People’s Choice award for his bronze figure of John the Baptist (below). Rane feels that carving with marble has allowed him to find a voice he was not able to express through any other medium. Rane and his wife currently live in New York City and will be leaving later this year for Italy.

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Where did you grow up? How did you get started in sculpture? I primarily grew up in Oregon, which is where I met my wife. I’ve always had a strong connection to New York though as I was born here and would make frequent trips with my family growing up. My dad is a painter and so we would always stay connected to the culture that New York had to offer. But my interest in sculpture didn’t begin until college when I went on a study abroad to Italy and saw the great Michelangelo sculptures for myself. Up to that point, I had only thought of art as painting.

You worked as a property handler at Sotheby’s. What did you learn? I started working at Sothebys shortly after graduating from College. My College training was fantastic at Lyme Academy College of fine Arts, But it was very traditional. Everything was about anatomy and representing the figure in a classical way. That’s exactly what I was looking for in a college. I wasn’t exposed to the contemporary art world until I moved to New York and started working at Sotheby’s. This was great for me, but at the same time I have also been witness to a side of the art world that as an artist I think I would rather be ignorant to. The business side has much less to do with art as it does with money and prestige.

What’s your best Sotheby’s story? When I first started working at Sotheby’s I remember un-framing a Degas charcoal drawing and pulling the glass away from the front and just thinking it was the coolest thing ever. After that, even moving around a $50 million Warhol is not that exciting.

You went out on your own as a figurative sculptor in 2012. Describe your experience. Starting your career as an artist is by far the hardest part. There is no time for a learning curve. You have to experiment, and find your voice and make money but not do anything to damage your career. There is no one there to tell you what your next step should be. What I’ve found to be the most important thing is to be patient and take it slow. When you get out of school you want things to happen immediately. Fortunately, or unfortunately I was forced to take it slowly. I had no money after moving to New York, so like so many artist, I got a job as an art handler just to get by. As frustrating as it is to not be making art all the time, I actually think I’m better off for it. As my thoughts on art continue to develop, I would hate to feel like my art was trapped.

Visit Alex Rane’s website.

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Nnamdi Okonkwo: Womanhood is Venerated

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Nnamdi Okonkwo is a talented Nigerian sculptor who lives with his wife and family in Fayetteville, Georgia. Okonkwo says of his work, “In my indigenous culture as well as in many cultures, womanhood is venerated. There is an understanding that women share, even in a small way, with the creator, the sacred act of giving life. Perhaps this understanding of the dignity of womanhood inspires me to seek to honor women in my sculpture.”


Life has taken you from Nigeria to Hawaii to Georgia. I truly believe that artist expression to a great extent comes from the fountain of a person’s innermost thoughts, as well as from life’s experiences. Every aspect of my life and experience has had an indirect and not literal influence on my art. But their is also a natural God-given sensibility to aesthetics and ideas which every person has which, if the artist is loyal to, exercises a greater influence on him than any learned conviction. One of my strongest convictions, which guide my art, is that there is a God, and we are all his children. We have the potential to become, through the talent He has given us, channels through which He can express His perfection for the benefit of humanity.

You often focus on womanhood. How do you feel about women’s issues in LDS culture right now. Actually my main focus is the expression of love, and the dignity or nobility of the soul. At this time, I have chosen the female form as a vehicle to portray these ideas, but will most likely use the male form for the same purpose in the future. As far as women’s issues go in the LDS environment I am of the opinion that God loves both genders equally.

Although we can talk about women’s issues or men’s issues I feel that in reality, and especially in the gospel there should not be any demarcation, for we are all alike unto God, and cannot stand approved of Him when we in anyway treat another as lower than ourselves. However, I also feel that God created men and women to be different, and to have different roles and responsibilities, and to complement each other in their differences. There is always a hurdle of faith that almost always involves an aspect of pride which we all must encounter in our spiritual journeys. Having concerns, perhaps some doubts, I believe is not only okay, but necessary, but it is important, to go about resolving them in the right and appropriate way. Unlike in secular affairs, I don’t think God needs a public demonstration or confrontation, no matter how peaceful, in His Church to bring about His good will for his children.

Describe your creative process I always have lots of ideas that I want to explore in sculpture. Sometimes I try to sketch them first on paper,  but other times I prefer to work them out directly with clay. Most times the ideas are vague, and upon exploration in clay, the end product bears only a minimal resemblance to the original idea. I’ve come to believe that having an idea is mostly a tool to get me into the studio. The real inspiration happens when I am actively working, and it usually comes at the moment when I have tried everything to no avail, and am ready to throw up my hands in frustration. Experiences like this have really convinced me that this struggle in creativity is but a way to convince the artist that he or she is not ‘all that’, and that great art does not come from the artist, but from a different higher place, and the artist must not take credit for it.

Visit Nnamdi Okonkwo’s website.


Karl Hale: Kinetic Metaphor

Karl Hale‘s newest creation, Tell Me the Stories of Jesus, is part New Testament sermon, part decadent woodworking, and part Rube Goldberg device. Somehow all those parts add up to something remarkable. Hale has a background in technology and his love of woodworking combined for a unique type of sculpture he calls ‘kinetic metaphor’. It is a sprawling marble run that conveys nearly 20 scriptural stories of Jesus and took Hale more than 1,100 hours to create.

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You found art later in your career. I was 42 and had given two decades of my misspent youth to the business world before making my first piece of art. But even woodworking didn’t come to me until I had three kids and a budding tech career. What really led me to the art was a fascination I have with the intersection of things that don’t seem like they should intersect: particularly, left-brain, analytical thinking and right-brain, aesthetic thinking. In January of 2014 I was in serious need of a stress reliever from a painful job situation and so I decided to prove to myself that I could pull off a significant project that had no “useful” objective. A love of wood, some skill in highlighting the beauty God puts in the tree, and a fascination with marble runs were the ingredients for my frivolous project. My goal: produce a piece that would appeal to both analytically and aesthetically inclined people.

Break down the time investment to each stage of Tell Me the Stories of Jesus. Quick answer: no clue. Attempt at a useful answer: I spent several weeks with ideas knocking around in my head for Tell Me the Stories of Jesus and then probably about 40 hours sketching (on paper and in the application SketchUp). But the bulk of the roughly 1,100 hours spent on the piece was a back-and-forth process of prototyping and fabrication which is difficult to divide into chunks of time. Because my art has to be mechanically functional as well as aesthetically interesting, I usually spend a lot of time working on those mechanics. For example, Cleansing the Temple (one piece of Stories of Jesus) required four prototypes before I got the Money Changer marbles to seat themselves properly and still allow themselves to be kicked out of their market stalls by the Jesus marble. I probably spent 40-60 hours on that piece alone. Other pieces take a good bit of computer engineering time before I get to make any sawdust. For example, the three spiral posts required me to write custom code for my CNC to get the right trough slope, exits, and cutting-bit depths. I probably spent 20 hours just on the computer for those posts and then 10 hours cutting, gluing, sanding, and shaping.

And then there are the pieces that don’t make it into the final. My original design had a large star as the capstone of the piece to which Jesus ascends and from which he condescends. It had six two-foot long, geometrically intricate radiating arms and a complex mechanism for receiving, hiding, and delivering Jesus. However, when I placed it on top of the sculpture I knew it to be an aesthetic abomination. The visual reality was very different from what my computer sketching and imagination had foreseen. As my 20-year old son said, it looked like the crown of Sauron of Lord of the Rings infamy. I estimate that I spent 16 hours and $100 in wood on that little project. Its broken majesty is now in my burn pile.

Once my sculptures appear complete, I have to tune them. Everything looks right and all the balls go where they’re supposed to 80% of the time, but then I try to increase that percentage closer to 99%. This tuning seems to take about 10-20% of the total time for my sculptures because I have to redesign the part that is causing the difficulty until it works flawlessly. In the case of Stories of Jesus I’ve spent about 150 hours tuning so far and would like to spend another 20-40.

Are you interested in other mediums now? Somewhat. I have created one prototype sculpture out of synthetic material as I explore outdoor installations and I recently started sketching some ideas for a leaded and stained glass piece. One of my focuses has become attracting people to art who wouldn’t otherwise be interested (e.g. analytical types and children/teenagers). Kinetic art, particularly rolling ball sculpture, seems to work well with that, so my art will likely remain in that category. Also, people like to get involved with the art, so most of my art will probably continue to be interactive. Finally, I like letting God do the heavy lifting in the material preparation leaving me to just form it a bit, so I’m pretty sure the majority of my art will be in wood.

Visit Karl Hale’s website.

Follow Karl Hale on Instagram.

Karl Hale