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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Tale of Two Sculptors

The "new" Lucy
I don't care how successful an artist may be, every artist fears rejection. In fact, the more success the artist has enjoyed the more devastating rejection becomes. We who are (or have been) art instructors constantly combat within our students the fear of failure. Such fears effect attitude, inhibit creativity, and also hamper productivity as well. Time, experience, and the resulting self-confidence of both, tends to mitigate the fear of failure; but it's never quite eliminated. More often than not, the failure of a given work of art is more in the artist's mind than that of those seeing his or her work. Or, if others notice a particularly poor effort, they have the good taste not to mention it to the artist, thus reducing any psychological impact such failure might impose. Personally, I've only suffered one or two painting rejections in my lifetime and neither one broke my heart. Be that as it may, when an artist undertakes a commission whose sole purpose is to please the public or memorialize an individual, the entire situation changes. A single failure can drastically effect an artist's career. Around 1642, Rembrandt's soaring career as a portrait artist went into steep decline following the poor reception to what, ironically, may have been his greatest work, The Night Watch. It's too soon to say at the moment, but western New York bronze sculptor, Dave Poulin, could face the same fate.

Dave Poulin's "Scary Lucy"
Unless you've been living in a cave somewhere within the Amazon rainforest, you've no doubt seen at least a glimpse of the ruckus raised over Dave Poulin's "Scary Lucy." In 2009, a private individual commissioned a life-size bronze sculptor of the iconic comedienne, Lucille Ball, in a park named for her in Celoron, New York (her hometown). Poulin claims to have had misgivings about the statue at the time, but nonetheless it was installed in the park. People hated it. The likeness was based upon an episode from I Love Lucy titled "Vitameataveg-amin" in which Lucy tries her luck as a TV commercial spokeswoman. I've included the original clip (below). Prepare to laugh your head off, but stop it when you've had enough; otherwise it goes on and on and on.

The whole debacle, stretching over six or seven years, was the result of two errors of judgment. The first was the selection of the artist. Dave Poulin is not a bad sculptor. As a quick look at his many public pieces (below) attests, he is technically adept, and emotionally sensitive. But, he is not a portrait sculptor, and certainly not one up to the task of capturing the strong, highly individualistic features of a woman so instantly identifiable as Lucile Ball. The second error was the artist's selection of his source material. Certainly "Vitameatavegamin" is funny--hilarious in fact--Lucille Ball at her best. The problem is that, as many painters can attest, what works in a photo (or on TV in this case) does not necessarily translate to painting or sculpture.

Poulin is a narrative artist, a rare talent among sculptors.
Carolyn D. Palmer is a portrait sculptor. Her sculptured busts (below) of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Pope Francis XVI, the Wright Brothers, and Bill Clinton (a work in progress), demonstrate her amazing ability to capture not just a decent likeness but the essence of the individual. Even at that, Lucille Ball seems to have proven quite a challenge, especially coming on the heels of another sculptor's failure. Palmer was not at all certain that she, herself, had succeeded until she witnessed the reactions of the local crowd at the work's unveiling. The mayor of Celoron, Scott Schrecengost, who spearheaded the replacement, was pleased too: “It’s a gorgeous piece. Everybody likes it. There are no complaints whatsoever. Carolyn Palmer made Lucy look glamorous, sophisticated; and it’s just beautiful. She’s got tints and colors. It’s so creative: just the way it pops." As for Poulin's Lucy, it remains on display along a path some seventy-five yards away.

A beloved sculptor of beloved sculpture of beloved people.
Apparently Lucy is not an easy figure to capture in
bronze as this Palm Springs sidewalk rendering
of the much-loved comedienne would suggest.



  1. A Narrative Artist is a great description for Dave Poulin. He is a storyteller. His 'Underground Railroad' sculpture in Jamestown,NY is the best I have ever seen in terms of depicting the STORY. Please take time to go see this sculpture project in person- touch the torn shirt of the slave and reach inside of the shirt to feel the scares on the skin. Feel the quilt. Thank you for your fair description.

  2. Constanza--

    There are few things I'd like better to do than seem ANY work by Dave Poulin. Your mention of "time" is the problem, what with keeping the blog here afloat and the fact I'm seventy-one years old, means I don't have much of this invaluable commodity left. Thanks for reading and writing, If I'm ever in the area, I'll make a point of doing as you suggest.