Made in the Berkshires | Andrew DeVries turns visions into reality with bronze
Photo Gallery | Sculptor Andrew DeVries
MIDDLEFIELD — Sometimes the idea comes to Andrew DeVries through a piece of music. Once, it came from a pattern he saw in the clouds. Another came into focus while he was driving on Route 143 in Peru.
"It's so clear," said DeVries, referring to the process. "One time a psychiatrist asked me about it. He was fascinated."
DeVries takes these moments of inspiration — he calls them visions — and turns them into works of art, sculptures cast in bronze that emphasize movement.
"I'm a figurative artist," said DeVries, who operates his own gallery, DeVries Fine Art International in Lenox, which he established in 2002.
"Really, what I'm concerned with is the human condition," he said. "The human spirit. That's what I communicate."
His dance and figurative sculpture, abstract and symbolic sculptures and portrait and bas relief wall sculptures are on display in private and public collections on six continents.
Except for a six-month stint at a beaux arts academy in France 31 years ago, DeVries, 59, is self-taught. He moved from Paris to Middlefield in 1985 where he built River Studios, the studio/foundry where he continues to do his work.
His work is located in public installations that range from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to Big Y Foods' corporate headquarters in Springfield, to the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Village at Soldier On in Pittsfield.
In 2010, a collection of 25 of DeVries' largest and most admired bronze sculptures were displayed for six months throughout the town of Lenox in "The Lenox Sculpture Walk."
Out in Middlefield, DeVries is currently working on a 15-foot version of one of his most popular works, "The Other Side of Eden," which he originally created in 1980. The sculpture is being done for a private collector in Ann Arbor, Mich.
He also plans to install a smaller 62-inch version of that same sculpture next year at Berkshire Medical Center's Cancer Center in Pittsfield.
"This is Andrew's life," said DeVries' wife, Patricia Purdy, who manages the gallery in Lenox. "He knew from the time that he grew up on a diary farm that he wanted to be an artist."
DeVries, who grew up on a farm outside of Rochester, N.Y., quit school at 15 originally to become a painter. "I left with all my books and brushes," he said.
He headed west, traveling to museums, before stopping in Denver which is where his fascination with movement began. DeVries went to a ballet studio seeking subjects to draw, and a choreographer suggested that he sketch the dancers as they went through their paces.
"It fascinates many sculptors," DeVries said, regarding movement. "At the studio, you could see what it takes to achieve that level of greatness in a dancer. And it's the same thing that I have felt I need to do in my own work. You give everything — physically, emotionally, spiritually, to do this work, and to continue to do this work."
DeVries left his dreams of being a painter behind the minute he began working with molding materials.
"The first time I put clay in my hands at a small little community school in Denver, it was like angels came out of the sky," he said.
DeVries said it normally takes him between six to eight months to complete a project, and his creative process includes several steps. After envisioning what a sculpture might look, he sketches it.
"It's very rough," he said. "The thing you have to do is decide how large you're going to make it."
Once he determines a sculpture's size, DeVries makes a steel or wood mold known as an armature that will hold the modeling medium that he intends to use. When making a figurative piece, DeVries adds a rough skeletal cage, which is intended to give a sculpture its musculature. He makes separate rubber molds for a figure's extremities like arms and legs, then casts them in wax.
DeVries then creates a ceramic mold. The wax is melted out, and replaced by liquid bronze, which he carefully pours into the ceramic. That process is conducted in a foundry located at the back of DeVries' property in Middlefield.
DeVries often holds public demonstrations of what is known as the "bronze pour," including two that are scheduled to take place at River Studios between 2 and 5 p.m. on Aug. 13 and 14.
But working with liquid bronze is dangerous. An alloy containing 95 percent copper, 4 percent silicon and 1 percent manganese, bronze has to be melted to be molded and doesn't turn into liquid until it reaches 2,250 degrees Fahrenheit in his foundry. DeVries wears a metal mask and a "Ztex" coat, a garment containing material similar to a firefighter's gear, during the pouring process.
He began working with bronze in Denver.
"You can create pieces [with bronze] where people just go aghast," DeVries said. "It's a miraculous metal. ... You can do things with bronze that you can't do with steel.
"For me it's the most beautiful metal to show the human spirit."
It's captured in his work.
Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at 413-496-6224.