Steamboat artist and sculptor Sandy Graves transforms metal into levity, motion, and emotion.
Unlike many artists, who might describe themselves as random and chaotic, Sandy Graves is grounded, logical and sensible, even wise. The process she uses to create her sculptures isn’t so much free form as it is technical, labor intensive and collaborative. Even though she always knew she would eventually work as a professional artist, or maybe because of it, she took her time. She got a degree in fine arts, worked as an art teacher for 16 years, started a family, settled down, established roots, and became grounded.
It was out of that stability, she says, that she was able to take a chance; to quit her job and finally become the artist she always knew she would be. And while there is no undermining the amount of work and grit and determination it took to make that happen, it also came easily. Her art has been fused into the Steamboat landscape as she has been commissioned all over town and her works are being sold far and wide, earning her the acclaim and success she didn’t so much pursue as step into. Maybe it’s that artist’s intuition, but the most incredible part of her story is she was somehow able to wait, to hold off until she knew she was ready.
Sandy Graves at work
As a sculptor, her job is to literally break the mold and as an artist, her instinct is to resist society’s norms and do things her own way. Because of that, she was not someone to interview so much as to listen to. There are no questions and answers, just pearls of wisdom she shared that do a better job at telling her story.
“A lot of people would consider quitting my job to pursue art a huge risk. However, I had been living a double life. While I was teaching, I was really practicing my craft. All those years of teaching actually gave me the skills that I needed to be a studio artist.”
After completing her degree in fine art with a concentration in sculpture at Colorado State University, Sandy got her teaching certificate and accepted a job as an art teacher working for the Lowell Whiteman School (now Steamboat Mountain School) where she worked for 16 years. “The idea of going straight into studio art after college was not interesting to me. I didn’t want to be alone, but with people.” Like most teachers who work for a small private school, she ended up wearing many other hats: teaching Spanish, climbing, and leading foreign travel. She also became a wife and mother of two.
Horses – “Kisses” – 16″ tall
“I always feel like if you die and your life gets turned into a book, you don’t want boring chapters … It’s a big life. You just want to say to ‘yes’ to everything, when you live in a place where everything is so amazing.”
Sandy loves to travel, ski, mountain bike, climb, camp, hang with friends, garden, and go backpacking. She was a member of Routt County Search and Rescue for 12 years and had a search dog she trained herself. “I had so many things to do and not enough time to focus. Once I got to that place where I had kids and a husband and family life and a dog and a house and I settled down, I really had the freedom to take the chance to be an artist. I was ready. I needed to put my roots down first, in order to have the concentration on my career.
“Art is a balance between perfection and leaving space for the viewer to interpret and feel and have their own emotions and opinions. I think that’s what I excel at.”
Sandy’s earliest work was in realism but evolved into stylized forms around 2005. She creates all her sculptures first from wax and then takes her original to the foundry for an elaborate casting process that allows her to finish the form in bronze. The finishing work alone—erasing any evidence of welding, grinding, and buffing out seams takes a massive amount of labor hours (her sculpture outside the Routt County Courthouse was fused from 26 individual pieces). Though as her work evolves, she’s trying to become less of a perfectionist. She’s realizing that’s when the work speaks to people, in its lack of perfection. She likes to take bronze, a material people consider to be heavy and stagnant and transform it into something that has levity, emotion and motion. She likes to play with negative space and altering proportions to exaggerate motion or evoke energy.
“Gone Fishin” – 10″ tall
“Beauty for the sake of beauty is a noble purpose, but I think there’s a much deeper spiritual connection that happens in every moment of all of our lives.”
Sandy’s sculptures have become part of the Steamboat landscape, displayed on the courthouse lawn, outside of Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, in the maternity ward at the Yampa Valley Hospital and at Steamboat Mountain School. She considers it an “absolute honor” to be able to express what her home and community means to her through her art. When it comes to finding inspiration, it’s the spiritual connection to people and nature that informs her work. She is able to then translate that human experience into something permanent and tangible and aesthetic. “That’s what our world is lacking, is a sense of connection,” she says. “It’s my job as an artist to create an aesthetic experience, and that to me is a spiritual experience that comes from the oneness of humanity.”
To learn more about Sandy visit sandygravesart.com.
Reproduced with permission from Steamboatsir.com