Fabulous Forms

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She called it serendipity and said that everything just fell together, but the woman who came to live in Payson three years ago made the move with as much thought as she had put into any of her carefully crafted bronze sculptures.


Gail, 47, now a resident of East Verde Estates, is well known in the art world by that one name.

She grew up in Winslow, Ariz., went away to college in Southern California, earned a certificate in commercial art, and started making a living.


"When it comes to art," she said. "I grew up as a typical horse-crazy girl."


In college, Gail learned she had a talent for three-dimensional work, but without the equipment she needed, she continued to paint. She made money in California painting horse portraits and then got into Western art.


"The next thing that happened was I ended up living in Seligman with my husband at that time," she said.


A few years later she left her husband and Seligman. She had a 5-year-old son to support and moved to Sedona, Ariz. to work in a foundry.


"I asked what kind of training I needed, and they said they'd rather train me and told me they needed a chaser. I'm thinking, 'what's that? But who cares -- I need a job.'"


As a chaser, Gail applied a patina to sculptures, working with a welding torch. "They said if you can paint, you can probably patina," she said.


Gail became well-acquainted with foundries in Sedona and worked at a variety of jobs. She learned about making bronze sculpture, and gradually came to understand what was good art work and what was not. She also learned the business of selling art.


But she eventually suffered constant pain that came with the physical work she did as a chaser. Her clothes and hair smelled of brimstone, the odor of molten metal. She decided she could no longer work at the foundry and eventually got a job with a sculptor, learning more and more about the career that would become her own.


A turning point came when she donated a welded bust of a draft horse to a humane society auction. When the piece sold for $600, Gail realized she was on to something.


"I was really pleased with myself," she said. "It was only three inches tall and didn't have a wood base or anything.


"I learned from them. I watched what everybody was doing. It was pretty complicated setting up all these tools, but I guess I had an aptitude."


For the next five years, Gail worked for Ross Morgan, a successful sculptor, and she learned more about the techniques and the art of sculpting.


She learned that the original piece can be formed and carved out of any material.


"For every bronze, there's a wax and a ceramic shell mold," Gail said. "They build a thickness of ceramic material and let it dry. After the ceramic shell is dry, it has to be baked. That's where the wax gets lost."


The molten metal is poured into the still warm mold and fills the void where the wax used to be. The figure also has what Gail calls "sprues and gates," which allow the metal to go in and the air to escape.


"I love welding now," Gail said, "especially bronze -- it's so clean."


Gail finishes the sculptures by sandblasting them and painting on one of many acids to create a patina.


"I use various acids and apply them with an airbrush or just a brush along with a torch," she said. Once the patina has been applied, Gail seals the surface with wax or lacquer to protect it from further oxidization.

"Then all you have to do is put on the base and you're done," she said.


In 1992, while Gail was working for Morgan, she heard that the Prescott Community Art Trust was having a contest and wanted to commission a large-scale monument. By that time, she had artwork in galleries in Santa Fe, Scottsdale, the Mall of America, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and the Western Horseman Gallery in Colorado Springs, Colo. Her artwork was featured in magazine ads and articles.


"That's just what happens," she said. "You have to be in the public eye, go to the openings."


Gail was selling her sculptures in editions of 30 for $3,000 to $3,200 apiece. Other artists were charging $5,000 for similar pieces, but Gail did most of the work herself, while others had foundry costs to pay.


"They do the original and wash their hands of it," Gail said.


She wanted to do something big, and couldn't afford the cost of making a large piece of sculpture.


"I entered the contest and I won it," she said.


Gail's seated prehistoric Yavapai woman and child, which is now at the Sheraton Resort and Conference Center in Prescott, is more than twice lifesize.


"I got to do what I wanted to do and they paid for it," she said, "plus I got an extra $10,000 out of the deal. That was my profit."


Gail spent six hours a day for a month working on the maquette, a smaller version of the large sculpture. She had about 10 models that she used for different parts of the sculpture. A Navajo woman who worked across the street from Morgan's studio was the model for the woman's face.

The son of a friend was the model for the child.


After the sculpture was dedicated, Gail stopped by one day to see it. "There were kids climbing on it and I thought it was great," she said. "I was honored."


For five years, Gail continued working with bronze and, when the economy shifted, began making bas reliefs, which retail for about $200.


Gail's bas reliefs are now in catalogues, at trade shows, and are sold on the Internet.


Gail will be teaching a sculpture class at the East Verde Park Clubhouse June 20, 22, 27 and 29. For information, call 474-8182 or visit Gail's Web site at 411web.com/g/gail3.

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