North Carolina artist Roger Martin has been creating wildlife sculptures for 40 years. He is a Fellow of the prestigious National Sculpture Society and a signature member of The Society of Animal Artists. His award-winning sculptures can be found in private and public collections across the U.S.
Fascinated with animals from an early age, as a boy Roger had pets ranging from raccoons to rattlesnakes. He grew up about half a mile from The Schiele Museum of Natural History and started his professional career there as an assistant curator. In his early 20s, intent on becoming a sculptor, he began sculpting mannequins for the taxidermy industry. This career change offered him a unique opportunity to study wild animals around the world. Over the course of twenty years, he sculpted approximately 300 animal mannequins and eventually decided to try his hand at bronze.
Roger says his goal is to capture the essence or personality of his subject, not just an accurate anatomical replica of the species. That’s why he’s devoted much of his life to studying animals. The majority of his work is sculpted in clay and then cast in bronze, using the lost-wax casting technique – a 6,000-year-old process still used in fine art. Although expensive and time-consuming, lost wax casting allows artists to accurately reproduce the delicate nuances of an original model.
You’ll have the opportunity to meet Roger and watch him demonstrate his craft here at Grovewood Gallery on April 9 and 10 (11am – 4pm) during our 30th-anniversary celebration. He will be working on a clay sculpture that will later be cast in bronze. Completed works will also be on display and available for sale. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about his sculptures and creative process, check out the interview below.
Interview with Artist Roger Martin
When was your passion for wildlife ignited?
Martin: I have been interested in sculpture and wildlife most of my life. A few years back, my aunt gave me two clay duck sculptures I did for her when I was seven. There are pictures of them on my website.
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as an artist?
Martin: I’m not sure there was a pivotal moment for me. It was just always there. All my life, I have been making and creating things. I have been very fortunate to have spent the last 40 years making a living doing just that.
Did you formally study art, or are you self-taught?
Martin: Creating is a boundless quest for knowledge about whatever you are interested in at that moment. I was learning solid basic skills as a teenager. I did take a number of art classes in college, but I think I learned the most from working with artists that I admired.
Your process seems complex, and I think people would have an even greater appreciation for your work if they knew what goes into making your sculptures. Can you walk us through the basic steps?
- First, a sculpture is created in clay.
- Then, a rubber mold is made of the clay sculpture.
- A hollow wax casting about 3/16” thick is made from the rubber mold (like a hollow chocolate Easter bunny).
- Next, a ceramic shell mold is made of the wax cast.
- The ceramic mold is fired, burning out the wax in the process. The fired ceramic mold can withstand the 2000-degree temperature of the molten bronze.
- The molten bronze is poured into the ceramic mold.
- Once the bronze cools, the ceramic shell is broken away. Then the casting is sandblasted and cleaned.
- For the last step, various chemicals are applied to the heated piece to create the final surface color or patina.
How do you determine how many pieces to produce for a limited edition?
Martin: It’s mainly based on size – the larger the piece, the lower the edition number. Edition size is important to maintaining the value of the piece.
Is there something about your work or creative process that would surprise people?
Most of my subject matter is animals. When I have an idea I want to work through, I choose the animal that best fits the idea. Some animals are much more interesting in action poses than others. Some have more interesting fur, feathers, or anatomy that can help convey a concept.
Is there a success you have achieved as an artist that you’re particularly proud of?
Martin: Being elected a Fellow of the National Sculpture Society.
When you’re not in the studio, what do you enjoy doing?
Martin: I enjoy spending time outdoors – hiking, kayaking, and camping. That’s where my subject matter lives.