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Sculpting History

by Jeri Magg

THE BRIGHT AND AIRY LANAI at sculptor Terry Jones’ condo in Fort Myers serves as a winter studio for this former Marine and military history buff. Sketches of his current commissions lean against the screen as the artist studies the small model of Lt. General Lewis B. ‘Chesty’ Puller, the only Marine to be awarded the Navy Cross five times.

Jones studied at the Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, France and for 40 years has wowed the critics with his bronze bas-reliefs (a form of sculpture in which a solid piece of material is carved so that objects protrude from a background) and figures in the round (sculpture that is surrounded on all sides by space and is meant to be viewed from any angle).

But enthusiasm for his next commission isn’t diminished. “If I hit the lottery, I’d still be doing the same thing.”

Terry is renown for his life-size bronzes of famous personalities, such as Ernest Hemingway, located at the Key West Museum, and John Philip Sousa, found at the U.S. Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, D.C. His pieces combine a love of history with a storyteller’s knack for creating personalities and events from the past.

The art of brass and bronze sculpture-making is thousands of years old — perfected by the Greeks. There are two methods currently used: sand-casting and lost-wax.

Terry uses the lost-wax method, where a model is made of wax and enclosed in an envelope of clay and plaster, with a small hole or holes in the bottom. When heat is applied the wax melts and drains away through the holes, and the clay and plaster become a hard mold. Molten bronze is poured in the mold and allowed to cool — then the clay envelope is cut away. The result is a bronze cast that exactly reproduces the original. The bronze will be hollow if the original wax model was made around a core of burnt clay.

His past historical sculptures have attracted many clients — especially the military.

“I’m kind of in the loop with the Marine Corps and Army. I speak military,” he chuckles. This probably gave him the advantage when he was competing for the commission for the ‘Fallen Heroes Monument’ in Vermont. The Vermont National Guard lost twelve members in Iraq and wanted a memorial to honor them. When Terry arrived at the meeting along with other artists he brought one of his small table pieces of Civil War General Stonewall Jackson, which immediately attracted the attention of the selection committee. Terry earned their trust and received the commission.

Another reason for Terry’s popularity as a sculptor is his turnkey operation. Unlike other artists who just design the molds, he does it all — develops the art, works with the foundry, chooses the granite or marble base, and places it at the site. “I tell them to raise the funds and then get ready for the dedication party,” Jones declares.

Currently, he is looking forward to the party following the installation of his latest art work, the ‘Scottish Immigration Memorial’, commissioned by the St. Andrews Society of Philadelphia, organized in 1747 for the relief of distressed Scottish immigrants in the area. The life-size monument depicts a Scottish family led by the patriarch of the clan with his faithful Scottish deerhound.

Terry had some anxious moments when the time came to send this latest work to the Laran Bronze Foundry in Chester, Pennsylvania. The almost eight-foot high figures were molded in his Newtown Square, Pennsylvania studio, but when the foundry truck arrived to pick up the models, the truck was only six-foot-eight-inches high — so the artist had to cut the heads off. Jones explains, “There were heads all over the floor. Once everything arrived at the foundry, I had to go and make sure that it all fit.”

The completed monument’s granite base is to be adorned with different plaques on three sides. The center plaque displays the seal of the St Andrews Society, while the other two depict the five members who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Tun Tavern where the Society was founded.

Before Terry started work on the ‘signers’ plaque, he had to scour Philadelphia in search of pictures of the five signers: Philip Livingston, Thomas McKean, George Ross, James Wilson and Thomas Witherspoon — finally finding their portraits on a placemat in a local shop.

The ‘Scottish Immigration Memorial’ will be dedicated on November 30, 2010 — St. Andrews Day — at Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia.

Along with the satisfaction of seeing his bronzes displayed, Terry enjoys a number of perks for being a renowned sculptor. One of them recently involved a cake.

Last October at the Blue & Grey Gala at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the artist’s ‘Moment of Mercy’ sculpture was the inspiration for a huge cake made out of Rice Krispies and marshmallow treats covered with chocolate. The Food Network show, Ace of Cakes had decided to replicate the monument. “Nobody ate it, but it looked very authentic,” relates Jones.

The artist and his wife Maggie received an invitation to the gala and Terry accepted, but had one caveat. “When I do a black tie affair — I wear my kilt.” Not only was he allowed to wear the kilt, but was part of the after party, upstaging the guest of honor, Senator Jim Webb.

The sculptor’s latest work is a statue of Lt. General ‘Chesty’ Puller, the most decorated Marine in history. Once the statue is completed it will stand on the grounds of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia, just outside the gates of Marine Corps Base Quantico.

When Terry is wintering on Sanibel, he works on portable pieces. “I have a bag of hands that need attention,” he jokes. He also spends time sketching different views for future pieces.

We do know that retirement is not in Terry Jones’ future. “I still have so much more to do and learn,” he says. That’s a good thing for his many fans who can look forward to more wonderful bronze pieces. •

from the March-April 2010 issue

"I'm kind of in the loop
with the Marine Corps
and Army.
I speak military."