‘The magnificence of humankind’: Bronze sculptures of Ed Smith

Ed Smith: “Breastplate TorsoaEd Smith: “Tcotta2,” Terra Cotta Torso Study. (Robert Layman / Staff Photo)

Arts Correspondent

Just now, and until Aug. 5, there is an opportunity to see and consider some very fine art. Specifically, the small gallery at The Carving Studio & Sculpture Center in West Rutland is showing the magnificent bronze sculptures of Ed Smith.

The room is filled with unique sculptures of torsos, slightly larger than life. This exhibit is full of the magnificence of humankind. Smith provides not just the finished bronze pieces, but his beautiful terra cotta studies, along with works on paper which show his examination of his subjects.

The studies on paper are as powerful as the sculptures. They appear to be made with ink, and investigate the details of the movement of the human male figure. Like the bronze sculptures, the drawings are full of impulse, portending action, and they elicit story telling. Obviously, they depict something happening.

The sculptures seem to be stopped in time, like artifacts struck by lava. They are heroic, recalling the awesome strength of heroes and angels.

Smith says “Art is about … ideas and people,” adding that he’s seen enough of pretty pictures. “Art should tell the story of how man should live,” and for his inspiration he turns to ancient thought and myth about people’s relationships with their gods.

Of the sculptures, Smith writes, “I model the sculptures directly in wax. And the patina choices are very important. I work on them a great deal with the foundry. We go through models, drawings and tests to get the different colors, and then once we know what we are doing we ‘push’ it as much as possible to get to a place that surprises occur.”

Take a look at “Breastplate Torso,” the massive hollow bronze recalling ancient armor to protect a gallant man. This work implies power, sacrifice, and valor. The surface of the sculpture is both rough and smoothed, both labored over and left alone. Note the beautiful color achieved with Smith’s patina choice.

“Angel Torso” is an even larger piece. Until I saw its title, I couldn’t quite understand the huge bulging shoulder. But look close enough, and you’ll find the partial wing of the enormous, daunting being. The patina on this piece is more subtle — green — but integral to the piece.

More approachable, the small terra cotta studies practice the posture and the skeletal details of the finished sculptures. Smith created beauty, and refers us to memories of our brave times as a species — our important times — when our bodies and lives were on the line.

When I look at these magnificent figures, so full of strength, I think not only of myths and ancient history, but of the sodbusters of the American plains, of Native Americans carving lives from the lands where they lived, of people suffering slavery, even of people flying in small capsules in space. I am reminded of those who explore, those who endure, those who risk everything. And, I wonder, what does courage look like now?

Ed Smith’s sculptures are imposing, startling and daring; the exhibition is exhilarating.

Smith is currently professor of art at Marist College in upstate New York, as well as gallery director there. He has been a visiting artist, lecturer, artist–in-residence, professor and distinguished visiting artist at American University, Bennington College, Bard College, Brandeis University, Boston University, Clark University, Dartmouth College, Dia Art Center, Kansas State University, Lacoste School of the Arts in France, New York Studio School, Parsons School of Art, Pratt Institute, Swarthmore College, School of Visual Arts, Trumbull College, Yale University, University of New Hampshire, University of Pennsylvania, Vermont Studio Center, University of Tel Aviv, Israel, Glasgow School of Art and many, many others.

The Carving Studio & Sculpture Center

The Carving Studio & Sculpture Center presents sculptor Ed Smith, work in bronze and plaster, through Aug. 5, 636 Marble St., West Rutland. Gallery hours: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday, or by appointment; call 802-438-2097, or go online to www.carvingstudio.org.