BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Grace Napper, February 26, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Title:
Interview with Grace Napper, February 26, 2008
Date:
February 26, 2008
Description:
Interview with local artist Grace Napper, a well-known figurative sculptor. Here, she discusses her background, her aesthetic, her preferred techniques, and the business of being a professional artist.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Napper, Grace Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  2/26/2008 Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes

 

Hayes: Welcome today. My name is Sherman Hayes. I'm the University Librarian at UNCW Randall Library here in Wilmington, North Carolina, and my staff insists that I say today's date so they know when it is. Today is February 26 and assisting me is Ashley Shivar. Today we're talking with artist, Grace Napper. Did I get that right, Grace?

Napper: You did. You did.

Hayes: Well, Grace is a well known, let's see if I can get this right, figurative sculptor?

Napper: That's right.

Hayes: We'll talk about that because I don't even know what that is, and many people do know what it is but may not know the term, but before we roll through your career of art, why don't you start back and give us a sense of where you came from and something about your upbringing to see how you finally ended up in this position as an artist.

Napper: Okay. Well, I am from North Carolina and I really didn't start sculpting until after college. I had always dabbled and played in it but did not take courses or whatever. I have always loved sculpture and the arts and I always tried to paint. I'm not very good at drawing and painting but I did find that I was pretty good at sculpture, three-dimensional.

Hayes: So where did you grow up? What city?

Napper: I actually grew up in Lexington, North Carolina, and then went to Winston-Salem, to Wake Forest University.

Hayes: Did you go as an art major?

Napper: I did not. I went as a science major. But I always loved the arts. Interestingly enough, we have three children, my husband and I, and they've all gone into the medical field. Nobody went into art. My husband is a physician as well so they're our physicians. One is a nurse.

Hayes: Well at least they deal with anatomy and so do you.

Napper: That's true. That is true. Anatomy is a core part of sculpture and I'm happy to have had those science classes.

Hayes: So you did have to take those as part of your program.

Napper: I did. I did.

Hayes: Not thinking that they'd necessarily lead to--

Napper: That's true. That's true. And then I discovered, I was still in artist school out in Scottsdale, Arizona, and I lived there and had wonderful, wonderful teachers there and from there I went to Loveland, Colorado.

Hayes: So who were some of the teachers?

Napper: Oh, some of my teachers were Lincoln Fox, Rosie Sandifer, Tuck Langland, Jerry Cox. I attribute Jerry Cox to much of the knowledge that I learned.

Hayes: Now this was a sculpture teacher?

Napper: Yes, sculpture. Just sculpture, yes. They did have painting classes as well but I just did sculpture.

Hayes: How long did that program take?

Napper: I went there off and on probably several weeks, every couple of months.

Hayes: You had an intense experience then?

Napper: Oh yes.

Hayes: Did you live right there at the school?

Napper: Yes, I did. Uh-huh.

Hayes: And all day long you--

Napper: All day long.

Hayes: --worked.

Napper: They made you take a break for lunch. They would not let you stay in the classroom for lunch. So that was interesting. And I actually studied also in Taos, New Mexico, at the Fetchin Institute.

Hayes: What institute?

Napper: It's Fetchin. The Fetchin Institute.

Hayes: No, I don't know that one.

Napper: It's in Taos.

Hayes: Well that's a very famous area.

Napper: It is a famous area.

Hayes: You had earlier mentioned the Western art. Was there that bias towards the subject matter approach or not at that point?

Napper: I was pretty much determined to do what I wanted to do. But actually the only art schools, I think, are most out West.

Hayes: For this type of--

Napper: For this type of work, yes, that I do. Both Lincoln Fox and Jerry Cox, who were my favorite teachers I think, would actually come and spend weeks with me here in my studio. I spent a lot of time with them and they spent a lot of time with me.

Hayes: Maybe we should say for the record since we know what you do because we've seen your work, but tell us kind of a definition: Figurative Sculpture. What are we talking about?

Napper: It's pretty much classical sculpture. I do mostly commission work now and that would be for public viewing in hospitals to ____________ buildings, and I do a lot of children. I do a lot of children for children's parks and that has been a great glory for me over the years.

Hayes: And how long has that been going on? That's kind of a recent phenomenon?

Napper: No, I started doing work in children's parks maybe 15 years ago.

Hayes: Now a children's park can be something like playground and all kinds of activities--

Napper: Maybe a dedicated playground.

Hayes: But they more than have the sculpture of children.

Napper: That's right, that's right. I did one for a science museum in Missouri, another one for a place called Marcus Park in Morgantown. I've done a lot of sculptures for the North Carolina Association of Educators. NCE, is that the way-- yeah, and particularly at Caldwell County with the North Carolina Association of Teachers-- is that what I'm trying to say? Oh, Education. Education-- have started putting sculptures in their schools and I think that maybe a few years back an artist gave money to try to bring the arts to some of the public schools where they wouldn't have the opportunity to feel and see sculpture.

Hayes: You use the term "commissions."

Napper: Yes.

Hayes: Let's talk a little bit about what that entails and means. Are these generally to compete for these or does someone call you--

Napper: So far I haven't--

Hayes: --as opposed to a gallery? A gallery would be one that you offer and the public comes for it.

Napper: Right. Yeah.

Hayes: So commissions are one-on-one?

Napper: It's a one-on-one. It is, and it would be with the [inaudible]. The Alderman. I guess it is the Alderman. County Commissioners, excuse me. County Commissioners. [inaudible] commissioned. They came to me and asked me to do a sculpture of their beloved George Black, who was a Black ___________, beloved son of a slave and never had school but everyone loved him. That's one, and then [inaudible] is another one I just did for a hospital. Oh, the GYN physicians commissioned me to create a sculpture of a mother with a newborn baby. So that would be--

Hayes: So a person commissioned has a preconceived idea--

Napper: That's right.

Hayes: In other words, they're coming with either a person--

Napper: Right.

Hayes: --or a concept.

Napper: That's true.

Hayes: If you're not doing an exact person, do you have a lot of latitude then in your own creativity or do you find that you have to negotiate what this final look is? I mean it's kind of a little different than the abstract painter who just paints whatever they want. The commission implies a joint project.

Napper: That's true. That's true. Sometimes you have [inaudible]. Those are lots of fun but you know you have to please too many people. I haven't had a problem at all most of the time. It just goes very well.

Hayes: I want to come back to this process. In some ways you're highly successful, you've been doing it for a long time--

Napper: That's true.

Hayes: --so people come to you now out of reputation and having seen your work. What about when you were getting started? How did you ever convince anybody that they needed to have classic sculpture? You weren't known. How did you break into this?

Napper: It was tough. It was really tough. I didn't really set out to become a professional sculptor but it was wonderful when I did receive the first commission and I felt that I really could call myself a sculptor.

Hayes: Well what was the first one? Do you remember what your first one was?

Napper: I actually think I sculpted my mother first.

Hayes: That's a good idea.

Napper: I then started to get commissions mostly for men. Most of men, and many times they were judges or figures of that sort that they would want for a courthouse.

Hayes: So most of your career you were in Winston, Salem?

Napper: I was. I was. And I--

Hayes: Your husband practiced medicine there--

Napper: Yes. Yes.

Hayes: And you've been doing this for 25 years maybe?

Napper: Well a few more.

Hayes: A few more, okay. Started as a child--

Napper: Probably 35 years.

Hayes: Thirty-five years, and in a sense you kind of grew up with the area because I'm trying to think about Winston, Salem 35 years ago.

Napper: I did.

Hayes: There couldn't be many people even who did this, right?

Napper: My mentor is still there and she's 95 years old. Her name is Earline King. She's a very famous sculptor and she's still working and has more energy than I do. We travel together often up to New York to one of our foundries and when I'm exhausted and just teetering on the brink, she says, "Oh, you know, let's go to a gallery. Let's go to the gallery." So I go with her and I'm holding up the walls and she's teetering right in her little high-heeled shoes and having a wonderful time. She's actually right at the moment doing a sculpture for the First Baptist Church in Winston, Salem of Jesus. I guess her interpretation.

Hayes: That's risky.

Napper: It is risky, isn't it?

Hayes: [inaudible]

Napper: Yeah. Well she's thrilled. She's thrilled. I do give her a lot of credit for encouraging me and always being very positive about anything I did, and she actually was the one who said, "You can call yourself a sculptor. You are a sculptor." Because you have to really feel that you've accomplished before you can say things of that sort.

Hayes: It's an interesting relationship. You're really for many times offering to somebody a memorial to someone.

Napper: That's true.

Hayes: Or even if they're alive, it's a gift of image. I guess the closest might be in some ways the portrait painter.

Napper: Right.

Hayes: Kind of some of that element, right?

Napper: That's true.

Hayes: Are there usually a lot more than just individuals, right? You said you had done mother and child and--

Napper: Right.

Hayes: --a bust. Have you done ones that were every man type of thing or every woman?

Napper: No.

Hayes: No, I mean in other words were--

Napper: I always have had a model.

Hayes: Oh you have had a model?

Napper: Yes. For everything. Even the mother-child. The OBGYN physicians chose that person for me as well and we photographed her when her baby was a day old. They actually chose several and we photographed several and then they chose the one to use. I couldn't even tell you her name now.

Hayes: Do you ever work from live models or not?

Napper: I do. I do work from live models.

Hayes: We have this image of the model sitting there for hour after hour as the sculptor is working on it.

Napper: Most of the time I take a photographer with me and we take many, many photographs in the round. Lots of angles.

Hayes: Okay, that's what I wondered when you mean by "in the round." You try to do--

Napper: We do.

Hayes: --a big circle of the person.

Napper: That's true. And hopefully in the position that they want to use.

Hayes: But you also have to make sure that the back and the top and everything else [inaudible]

Napper: Absolutely. Yeah. I've even learned to photograph under the neck.

Hayes: Oh that's interesting.

Napper: And the top of the head. I generally like to have those photographs and I will go ahead and build the sculpture from that. I also measure. I'm a great one for measurements and I was taught by Jerry Cox at Scottsdale Artists School and I really give him credit for teaching me to sculpt because he measured everything. And it's very interesting to know that God gave you these wonderful measurements. For instance, from here to here and from here to here is a triangle. It's generally the same measurement. And you have three eyes. One here. And eyes are in the center of the face. I've taught a few sculptors now and the thing that they come up with in the beginning, ____________ they'll do a piece, bring to me to critique and the eyes are always way up here. It's just the way you perceive the face. But if you measure from the corner of the eye to the chin and the corner of the eye to the top of the head, it's generally right in the center.

Hayes: So what do you do when the face is really different? You still have to capture that, right? I mean you can't force it back into those patterns. I think of Abraham Lincoln or, you know, there are some people through history who have just been different.

Napper: I know. Those are wonderful to do.

Hayes: Oh you like to do that?

Napper: I love to do those. Sometimes I'm too nice. I take some wrinkles away but generally I try to be kind but those are character marks and even little scars. So I love to do faces that have a lot of interest. I also love to do children. Children are so beautiful. They are so innocent and they just exude happiness. So it's a great joy to do children.

Hayes: That's good.

Napper: Yeah. I do lots of children.

Hayes: Let's talk about some of the process, because I think that each sub field of art has kind of its own terminology and that would help anybody listening or reading this. So you won a commission or you have an individual say, "I want something." Walk us through the artistic and kind of practical process. What happens?

Napper: It's according to what the subject might be. If they want a life-size or head-and-shoulders, or a child in action. I do love to do the children in action. And the first part of the process is to see what they want to do and then you bring in that person or child and do the photography. For instance, I just did a little boy with a baseball bat. He's playing baseball and I think he's 8, and his mom brought him in to my studio for the photography. Well he hadn't played baseball since the spring before so his shoes were too small for one thing, and his outfit didn't fit him too well but we worked on that, but he complained the whole time because his shoes hurt. While the photographer took the photographs, I ended up holding the back of his bat up because he kept tossing over. But reverse of that is a little girl I photographed not too long ago and she danced the whole Nutcracker Suite while we photographed her and she was wonderful. Just wonderful. So you never know what you're going to get, and men particularly are embarrassed when they come in to have their photographs done. They're so afraid they're going to do something crazy. But that is the first part of the process. I do measure. As I said before, I measure even legs, arms, wrists, toes, everything. But then I set up my armature, which is what is going to be inside of the sculpture.

Hayes: Armat?

Napper: An armature. A-R-M-A-T-U-R-E is what is inside. I make it of wire and if it's a figure it'll have just a little part for the head. It's almost like a stick figure, and then you bend it however way you want.

Hayes: So that's the talent of trying to get the motion in that kind of inside--

Napper: That's true. Mmm-hmm. And I'm generally a figurative sculptor. I use an oil-based clay because you can move it. If you use a water-based clay you have to set that armature the way it's going to be and you don't move it because the water-base would crack. So the oil-base just stays where you put it. And you can move it until you start to break the wires and then you know you've got to quit.

Hayes: So you slightly move the whole thing so--

Napper: Yes.

Hayes: --even though you're sculpting you're also tweaking kind of the movement.

Napper: Oh yes, oh yes.

Hayes: But you don't do a lot of that, right? Because you could damage--

Napper: You break the wire, in particularly large pieces. You have to set it.

Hayes: So this clay, you have to work the clay and set the clay?

Napper: Yes.

Hayes: Just like a potter and get that active?

Napper: No, you don't work at all like a potter. Oil-based clay comes in about a 10-pound block. It's very hard. So generally I cut that clay and I have to heat it up with a heater or with maybe a hairdryer to get it pliable enough to use.

Hayes: So the heat is what makes it--

Napper: When you are far enough along that you only need a little bit of clay you can just hold it in your hands and it becomes pliable. The water-based clay is so different. It has to be fired. The oil-based clay cannot be fired. It would melt. But the water-based clay has to be fired. It also has to be hollowed out and you run the risk of a piece exploding in a kiln. I don't really do any water-based clay anymore.

Hayes: There was a time that you tried that?

Napper: I did. I did because the foundries are so expensive. They charge by the inch for bronze, and of course you have to go to Merle [ph?]. There's a big process there.

Hayes: We'll get to that. Let's do that. So you've got this clay that you're working with now, and are your tools besides your hands instruments?

Napper: I use my fingers a lot but I do use tools. I use tools particularly working on a large piece. The tiny pieces are the most difficult where you have to really do tiny little eyes and mouths and fingers and toes.

Hayes: For those who are just reading, we've added a sculpture that Grace is holding. This is about 16 inches?

Napper: Eighteen inches.

Hayes: Eighteen inches.

Napper: Mmm-hmm.

Hayes: Now when you said small piece, is this a small piece?

Napper: This is a small piece. This is a macquette.

Hayes: A--?

Napper: A macquette.

Hayes: Spell that for me.

Napper: M-A-C-Q-U-E-T-T-E. It would be easier if I could write it but I'm not sure how to spell tit. This is a small piece to show the client what I've come up with and then if they like it we'll do a life-size piece, what you saw outside the ___________.

Hayes: So even when you're doing a life-size or a small piece, you always start small. You don't jump, right to a large-sized piece?

Napper: A lot of times I do.

Hayes: Oh do you?

Napper: Uh-huh. Just start off with a large piece. If they're sure that that's what they want.

Hayes: Yeah, or if they say I need to do this or they like the photography.

Napper: Yes. Yes. There is a process where you can do a piece like this and play and they can enlarge it using computers and machines. I have never had anyone pay me enough to have a piece enlarged so I always do mine by hand.

Hayes: So this infrastructure is there for the little girl and you've got her now in like a ballet __________ dancer.

Napper: Mmm-hmm. There's wire through here and then they--

Hayes: And so the challenges like you say are the little fingers, the--

Napper: Oh, yes. Yes. But the face, the facial features.

Hayes: And the clay is forgiving enough or do you keep working with it?

Napper: Oh yes. Oh yes.

Hayes: Or does it stop at some point and become--

Napper: The water-base clay does stop at some point.

Hayes: Is there a particular oil in that clay or just oil?

Napper: It's just called oil-based clay and there's some place that adds sulfur in them and I don't use those. They're not healthy for one thing.

Hayes: [inaudible]

Napper: They're not healthy and they also smell bad. And they also harm the molds. So I just use, it's called classic clay.

Hayes: I mean, is it linseed oil? I just didn't know if there was a particular type of oil or just oil. [inaudible] some chemical destroys--

Napper: It comes to me just in a slab so I don't really have--

Hayes: [inaudible]

Napper: No. Yeah, but--

Hayes: And now let's talk about, you know we have a concept and a vision. You probably do sketches of your own as well--

Napper: I do.

Hayes: --as the photographs.

Napper: Very poor sketches.

Hayes: But they help you, right?

Napper: Right.

Hayes: What's the timeframe? In other words, for a person who can't even visualize doing this, is this 50 hours later, 100 hours later?

Napper: I've never counted in hours. I would just say that I can pretty well build up a piece in a week or so, but then you get those teeny features. I may do those teeny little features over and over and over. Sometimes the larger pieces come quicker. For instance, the mother-child is a large piece but I was able to create that in four months.

Hayes: Four months.

Napper: Uh-huh.

Hayes: Wow.

Napper: And this one, I might need 3-4 months to do something like this as well.

Hayes: And you can't work though eight hours a day on this.

Napper: No, you don't eight hours a day.

Hayes: You'd burn up it seems like if you--

Napper: However, it's very difficult to stop. It's difficult to stop. You want to keep going.

Hayes: And the clay, if you leave it and come back the next day, it hasn't--

Napper: It's just the same as it was when you left.

Hayes: Oh good.

Napper: Except for the water-base. Now then with water-base you spray it down, cover it with plastic, and come back the next day and sometimes it's sunk down through the armature. You might have wet it too much. I've had that happen.

Hayes: So now you have a figure. You're happy with it.

Napper: Mmm-hmm.

Hayes: This size now, which is a marquette [sic]?

Napper: Macquette.

Hayes: Macquette. What's the next process? What happens next?

Napper: We go to the foundry if I'm really, really happy. We'd go to it now. [ph?]

Hayes: [inaudible]. You've got your product and you go to a foundry or do you--

Napper: A foundry.

Hayes: --have one that is a favorite for you?

Napper: I actually do have a favorite foundry now. It's in North Carolina. This is a gentleman who taught at Tulane, wanted to move back to North Carolina-- he's from North Carolina-- to raise his children. He didn't go but he was in a good atmosphere there, and he opened his own foundry I would say maybe 10 years ago. I've used many other foundries. I use Tallix in New York. It is associated with New York Sculpture House ____________, and they're in the city and they make my molds. But then when I go up there for the casting they drive me to Tallix, which is in a place called Fish Kir [ph?], New York.

Hayes: But we're going past [inaudible] because I [inaudible] a little bit here. You go to the foundry where there's this product. What do they do? They make a mold?

Napper: They make a mold.

Hayes: Okay. Now what's a mold?

Napper: They make a mold. They make a negative mold from rubber. They put the rubber around it. Actually the piece may have to be cut into several different pieces. An extension, an arm, might have to be taken off. The head might be taken off. Any sort of thing that is not attached to the body might have to be cut away and that will be a separate mold.

Hayes: Of rubber?

Napper: Of rubber, right.

Hayes: Hard rubber?

Napper: It's not hard rubber, it's pretty soft rubber and that would be another lifetime for me to learn to do the casting, but I'm there a lot. I know exactly how they do it. But they make a mold around my sculpture and that creates a negative. But they ________--

Hayes: And it really gets every detail?

Napper: It does.

Hayes: It comes out and it goes right into the crevices and so forth?

Napper: It does. It does.

Hayes: But it's a reverse mold.

Napper: It's a reverse mold. Then the wax is poured into this mold.

Hayes: Do they reattach it?

Napper: No, they don't. You have separate molds until the very end. The rubber mold is then taken apart and the piece removed. So I get back pretty much what I took for them. It'll be messed up but I can repair it if I want to.

Hayes: Messed up in what sense?

Napper: Oh, well--

Hayes: Wax on it and--

Napper: No. No, we haven't got to the wax yet. But they'll take that piece out, my piece, my original, and then they do have a negative mold. They pour wax into that negative mold and then you get a positive. But you're still going to have an arm and a leg and a torso, you know. That's a time I do go back. We call it chasing the wax. I don't know where the word came from, but we repair anything that we don't like. For instance, they might have, you know, touched the nose or whatever and we clean that up. Clean up the wax. It's called chasing.

Hayes: With tools?

Napper: With tools, uh-huh. And sometimes you have to use a little heat, a little heated knife or whatever to work this wax because it's hard.

Hayes: Well that's what I wondered.

Napper: Right. But it's hollow.

Hayes: Is it a color?

Napper: Well yes, it's just sort of a reddish wax. So once you chase that wax and you're happy with that piece, it then goes into a slurry room. It goes into a room where this wax is coated with a sand and silica and water and it's being stirred all the time. It's electrically stirred, and the piece goes into the slurry. It has to dry, and after that coat dries it goes again and this make five days. Each coat of slurry takes five days. It dries. Then you have a thick, ceramic shell around this wax.

Hayes: That's the slurry?

Napper: Right.

Hayes: And it doesn't melt the wax?

Napper: It's not hot.

Hayes: It's not hot?

Napper: No, hmm-mmm. You just coat the wax and coat the wax and coat the wax until you have a nice, thick shell. And we build sprues, they call them nipples. You know, that go out from the mold, and that's so that when we put it into the hot oven at 2,000 degrees, or kiln, or whatever you want to call it, the foundry people have to put on these fireproof, heatproof, tons of equipment to do this process because it's extremely hot, but then they pour the hot, molten bronze into this ceramic shell and it melts out the wax through those sprues that I told you about. And so after that cools off, which takes several days because it's very hot, they actually have a hammer outside and beat that shell off of it, and you come out with this bronze piece. But it's not real pretty. That bronze piece is sort of an ugly grayish color. Then it goes into the metal shop and the metal shop people are just so important. Then they polish all of that out, and you have seams, of course, where you have put it back together. So that's all polished out. You never know that anything has been cut apart.

Hayes: Now how are they reattaching these arms to the body?

Napper: They weld those back together.

Hayes: Weld them. Cover that. Is there ever a strength issue for one of your larger pieces? You've got this arm out here that's a weld. You never had any problems with--

Napper: Oh no. Oh no.

Hayes: People breaking off or--

Napper: Bronze is extremely, extremely hard, and I've never had a problem. I've had pieces outside for many, many years. They do change a little color. Actually, Patrick [ph?] goes to the metal shop. They polish it up, take all the seams away, reattach, and you've got a pretty little shiny piece. But then you don't want it that shiny piece. It's never the gold color you think of bronze. And then it goes into another area for patination. And we choose the patina. I choose the patina for whatever piece. For instance--

Hayes: Patina? The--?

Napper: The color it comes out. And the patina is generally chemical and heat and of course I don't do that. There again, we have the foundry guys who do this. But I do get to stand there and tell them when to stop.

Hayes: So you can change?

Napper: Oh yes. Mmm-hmm. They're using the spray. They spray the chemical and it generally begins with one called liver [ph?] sulfate. And then they also had a hose ready. I mean, they have a torch and they're torching this as they spray it and it gets red-hot. So then they'll cool it off. They'll use a water spray to cool it down so you can see what you have. You don't dare touch it. It's really hot. And they continue doing that until it becomes the color I want it to be. And then after that they just put lots of wax on and just use plain old Johnson's bore wax. They wax it up just to protect that patina.

Hayes: And does that stay on forever or just to ship back?

Napper: No. It stays on for maybe, an outside piece I generally ask that they wax it once a year, twice a year maybe.

Hayes: Oh, you've got the statues [inaudible].

Napper: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm, they should be. Or they'll lose that patination. A lot of people like that to be lost and, you know, you'll get a green color or it oxidizes and you get a different color. But I like to wax mine. You still get the oxidation but if you don't do something it'll be very black. You've seen some of those statues downtown and all that have are just black?

Hayes: Yeah. We took some pictures of those. They're very hard to get the ____________ out because they just have gotten so dark.

Napper: Yeah. If you don't like that patina, you can sandblast it and start over. They don't like it when you ask them to sandblast. Not much fun.

Hayes: I don't think people realize the kind of team that you have to put together to come away with this final product.

Napper: That's true.

Hayes: You're the creative force and you've got a whole team of a foundry and metalworkers and sandblasters and all kinds of folks that are--

Napper: Yes. They all seem to have their little niche at what they do the best. For instance, when I used to cast in New York there was just one-- Tallix is enormous. They probably have 300 workers in that place, but my foundry in North Carolina has five. So you know who's going to do what. You know who does it well. So that works out nicely.

Hayes: So in some ways this explains if somebody commissions a very large statue, it's expensive.

Napper: Yeah.

Hayes: It's expensive. I mean, besides the artist, there's this manufacturing process.

Napper: Very expensive. Very.

Hayes: And it has always been relatively speaking? In other words, it's obviously more expensive than in the past but it always was, right?

Napper: It's always been expensive. It's worse now because, of course, the cost of travel for the foundries to get there, to get their products, and all of that has to be figured in because they're paying more and then we're paying more. But I'm fond of my North Carolina foundry. It's Carolina Bronze. Don't mean to be giving it--

Hayes: You should. Business is [inaudible] this is the real thing. [ph?] [inaudible]. I'm curious, how long does it take? From the time that someone commissions a piece from you to the finished product, what's the average? I'm sure they're all different.

Napper: I really have to say I'm at the mercy of the foundry.

Hayes: Based on their schedule.

Napper: Based on their schedule. They generally know that I am in the process, but you don't get in line until you take that piece there. You can't say oh, save me a place and then next week--

Hayes: [inaudible] ahead of you [inaudible]

Napper: Yeah. You take your turn. So I would say 6-8 months, from start to finish. And as I've gotten older I've learned I don't have to say when. I'll give you a ballpark figure. I promise too many people too many things and it hasn't worked out.

Hayes: Do you work on multiple projects or one at a time? How does your particular pattern go?

Napper: I generally work on maybe two things at a time. In particular, if I have a large piece going I might work on a small piece ________.

Hayes: We've concentrated on your choice. You know, children and large figures and actual people, but as we look around the room I see a wonderful seagull.

Napper: I did do that.

Hayes: And over here is an eagle and then one on the outside, one you did a dog and I think I saw a horse. Are those ones that you--

Napper: I do. I do do those, and actually most of those were created for a show. If someone calls me and asked me to do a show two years from now.

Hayes: Who would ask you to do a show? What does that mean?

Napper: Well Catawba College just called. I had to turn them down to do a show there. I had several shows here in Wilmington at the Mary Ball [ph?] Club. Early on I had quite a few shows. That was really how you got your work to be seen to show--

Hayes: Well that's what I was wondering. So these are your smaller pieces that you would do--

Napper: Right. Right.

Hayes: --in this form.

Napper: Mmm-hmm.

Hayes: Then you had to pay for those as speculative, right?

Napper: Yes. Yes, but fortunately, for instance, with the bird that you were speaking of, he's called My Tern (My Turn). Not anybody else's but My Tern. I was fortunate enough at a show when I created that one to have six people who wanted to buy. So I--

Hayes: So that follows my question. If you do a show, besides hanging your work or bigger work, you can sell those _____________--

Napper: Absolutely.

Hayes: Or multiples of those items.

Napper: Multiples. I actually only do six of any piece.

Hayes: That's your choice?

Napper: Well I just don't think people want to go in someone else's home and see the sculpture that they paid a lot of money for ________.

Hayes: Well you had mentioned in some separate phone conversations that some folks are in a much bigger production mode.

Napper: That's true.

Hayes: They're almost a factor, a--

Napper: It's commercial. It is.

Hayes: And they do that to make more money, right?

Napper: That's true.

Hayes: And they have to.

Napper: And they show those in galleries and gallery commissions are so high that if they don't have a big turnover, it's very expensive. But they can sell those pieces for less because they've created so many of them.

Hayes: When we talked about this mold process, and you said that you might do the small one for the client or you might do two of those, do they have to do that each time or can they reuse that mold for more than one? Every one is unique?

Napper: That mold can be used, oh, probably 25 times before you might need to create a new mold.

Hayes: Okay, so it isn't just one time. You can reuse that.

Napper: Yeah. Well, some people use them for 100 or 1,000 but they don't have the same quality.

Hayes: And you generally like to keep one piece of your own work, at least at a small level? You feel like you have most of your work? You've been able to keep a record then of--

Napper: No. If they're real favorites I might cast one for myself. I just like to have things to show.

Hayes: So how do you feel about the kind of birthing of this eight months later, and then it goes away? Is there a sense of loss when you are--

Napper: Oh, very much. Very much. My husband laughs about a piece I did just recently because when the man came to pick it up, it was as though we were having a tug of war. I thought I was helping him to carry it to the car but my husband said no, you were trying to get it back, it appeared.

Hayes: At least you're honest about them. You feel that strongly about them and then you [inaudible] you wouldn't have just said [inaudible]

Napper: I know. I know.

Hayes: Do you have a sense sometimes of going to your own work in some of these places and just revisit that as you go back?

Napper: Occasionally. Occasionally. When I go to Winston-Salem I always like to go by and see Mr. Black. We just drive by and say, "Hi, Mr. Black. How are you today?" He's the man I did for the County Government Building that I love so much.

Hayes: You accomplished amazing things and I think for most people this is fine art to them if you can replicate this so well in such a different medium, and yet if I asked somebody the sculptures that are downtown, they don't know who did those. In other words, there's almost an impersonality that comes. The sculpture gets the glory.

Napper: Oh, the person who paid for it.

Hayes: Because they then put a plaque saying, "Dedicated by--"--

Napper: Yeah.

Hayes: --and take the glory, and then down at the bottom is the sculpture's--

Napper: Not really. Many times I've read newspaper articles and see things online that I created and it gives all the glory to that committee or maybe I'll have a dedication and they'll never say who did it. But I'm used to it. You know, I'm used to it. I don't expect. It's almost a joke.

Hayes: And it's true for everyone, right?

Napper: It is. Not just me. Every sculptor.

Hayes: Yeah, they don't say [ph?] anybody doing classic sculpture--

Napper: Right, uh-huh.

Hayes: --where sometimes the abstract things are so wild that we now know them, like Calder or--

Napper: Oh yeah.

Hayes: --Miro, right? Or how about Moore? What's his first name? You know, the very famous one at Chicago, he's got the big round sculpture and so forth.

Napper: Right, yes.

Hayes: They're so distinctively different because the subject itself isn't what we remember, right?

Napper: Yes, I know. They get a lot of credit for those.

Hayes: And then here you are, that's the best little girl I've ever seen. I wonder who did it? It's almost as if it just came out of nowhere.

Napper: I also forget to sign my pieces a lot of times. I just forget because you sign it before it's cast.

Hayes: Oh, I wondered about that.

Napper: Yeah. You have to sign it before it's cast, yes. And many times I forget to sign. So then I'll have to go back later with an engraver. I have a little engraving machine and engrave into the bronze.

Hayes: Now do you also then have the creative control of the base and so forth? Because that seems to make a big difference. I mean, how it's presented.

Napper: I do offer the client the options. Sometimes they want marble, but most of the time I have a bronze base made at my foundry. Or a wooden base.

Hayes: [inaudible]

Napper: Yeah. I've had a gentleman who's made wooden bases for me but most people prefer just to have the bronze base.

Hayes: And when you're doing the big commissions, do you then help with the actual installation?

Napper: Oh absolutely. I'm always there for the installation. The outside pieces are always so firmly implanted, they could never blow over or they could never be stolen. They could be maybe sold. I don't know how you would sell bronze.

Hayes: They're, like--

Napper: They're anchored, yes. For instance, on the bottom of shoes, if it's a large standing person, on the bottom of the shoes we'll attach a long, what am I trying to say?

Hayes: A spike? Is that what you put through the shoe?

Napper: You put spikes up into the shoe so that when you install it you have to drill into the-- you have to have some sort of concrete foundation or brick foundation. I don't generally use brick because you have to go further down than one level of brick. That spike may be 10-12 inches long.

Hayes: And that actually goes up into the--

Napper: The spike will go up into the leg, say for instance, and then be attached to the surface, or actually drilled into the surface and they'll use a concrete mix of some sort.

Hayes: Now one of those extremely large ones, life-size, is that solid bronze or is there some cavities inside?

Napper: There are cavities inside.

Hayes: Okay. So if you drive it into that, you're at least not having to go through--

Napper: That's true.

Hayes: Boy, because 10 inches of solid bronze would be a challenge.

Napper: Oh, yes. That would be something.

Hayes: And who does that? Is that just mostly contracted each time?

Napper: Actually my foundry people do that. They will bring the piece and/or take it to where it's going to be installed and install that piece for me, and I'm always there to tell them which way to turn it. And it's really interesting. It's an interesting process.

Hayes: I bet that's a collaborative venture but you would have to stay creatively in control, right? Because if you weren't there it could end up very--

Napper: Oh, I'll always be. I always have to be in control of any of those.

Hayes: And you don't do many pieces so you keep track of where they go and where their life is at. Do people stay in touch with you too then over year years?

Napper: A lot of people do.

Hayes: I was just saying, [inaudible] a little boy and his dog, this is a very personal--

Napper: Right. Right.

Hayes: --emblem for them.

Napper: I've had a wonderful time getting to know this couple. They came for the photography and then they came back maybe a month or so before I finished creating, and I was able to see him again. They stay with me long enough to get a sense of their personality as well.

Hayes: And do you feel that's what you're kind of contributing sometimes is trying to capture that personality?

Napper: I really feel that that's the most important part is to get that personality, that flow, that particularly with those children, have and their happiness. I'll be frank. I've never not liked anything. I always like what I do. But that's probably bragging isn't it?

Hayes: No. At the end of the process I think you'll hopefully like them.

Napper: Right. Right.

Hayes: Your challenge is that you don't get to repaint the canvas. I mean, once you get so far along it isn't easy to go back, right?

Napper: That's right.

Hayes: Do you have ones that you just at some point stop and say I'll start again?

Napper: Absolutely.

Hayes: See the impression is left that it just flows to the other parts of it.

Napper: Oh no, it isn't that easy. I'll give an example, and I probably shouldn't. I won't say the name, but I was working on a very large piece in my studio one time in Winston-Salem and a lady came in who was a teacher and wanted to give some anatomy lessons in my studio, and she's a pretty well known artist herself. She's actually from France but originally from North Carolina, I think. But she was in my studio and we all went to lunch and while I was gone, she put a lot of clay on my piece. She corrected it for me. And I actually had to go to bed for about two days after that.

Hayes: Don't touch my piece!

Napper: I mean, I was lost. I was completely lost because I knew exactly what I was going to do next and I never could pick it up. So another sculptor friend of mine went up and put a plastic bag over it and took it away.

Hayes: You started over?

Napper: I started over. And it was a difficult thing to do because I had gotten very far along in that piece. So that's my [inaudible]

Hayes: Well we just have another couple minutes and I wanted to put on the record that besides many municipal places and so forth, I would assume that your work, you mentioned, was at, is it Brook Green?

Napper: Actually, I--

Hayes: What's it called?

Napper: Yes, I enjoyed your website on Brook Green, thank you. I had two pieces there but they aren't being shown. They're small pieces.

Hayes: Right, but they were rotating and part of the collection. Are there other museums? That would be the other kind of that would forever and ever you would know they're at a museum. I didn't know if there are any others.

Napper: I do have some in some museums and I have a piece in a museum in Missouri, in Longview, Texas, in California. I can't think right now but I do have--

Hayes: Well, I was thinking for a sculptor, so many of them go to individual homes, which is great.

Napper: Right, yes.

Hayes: You at least get some in public spaces but the museum, at least, from a legacy is there, which I think is really complementary to your work that they're museum quality.

Napper: It's hard to say.

Hayes: For those museums at least sufficient and they're picky.

Napper: Oh yeah.

Hayes: Listen, thank you so much for talking to me.

Napper: Oh, I've had so much fun.

Hayes: Great to see you. I was telling Ashley Shivar, who is assisting, that, you know, this is really a classic part of the art world but you must get ________ someone who does this and I definitely have a better understanding of how complicated and challenging it is, and yet it looks so easy.

Napper: I didn't make it sound easy because it isn't easy. But it's joyful. It's uplifting. It's never a burden. But it isn't easy.

Hayes: Thank you.

Napper: Thank you so much.

Repository:
UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign