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Sculptor carved out art career later in life

By Staff | Oct 22, 2009

Some people know early on in life what they want to be while others have to wait awhile to figure it out.

For Jerry Churchill becoming a sculptor at the age of 60 was the first career decision he ever made.

The Sanibel resident said he always enjoyed working with his hands. But his birth right sort of got in the way of him pursuing or even daydreaming about anything artistic. As the son of a man who owned a family asphalt paving business, Churchill’s career options were quite limited. In fact they were non-existent.

“There was no question,” Churchill said waving his hand.

Working in Ohio as a paver is what Churchill did without thought to any other trade or calling.

“It was like breathing (working as a paver),” he said.

But one day in the mid 1990s his calling decided it needed to be answered.

And the answer came in the form of his youngest daughter who graduated with a Fine Arts degree. His daughter decided she wanted to move to a rural part of Maine to work on fine metals. He went on the trip to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine. From there several other events happened to carve a sculptor out of Churchill. After retiring he left Ohio and lived on a sailboat for more than a year. During that time he cruised down to the islands and took courses at BIG ARTS. But perhaps one of the most defining moments in shaping the former paver into a sculptor came when he won a merit award for an exhibit at BIG ARTS called Different Drummer.

“Little by little I became an artist,” he said.

Churchill apparently is proving his mettle as an artist to fellow artists and staff at BIG ARTS.

“He’s just so talented,” said Lee Harder, Executive Director of BIG ARTS.

Harder said some people find their artistic selves at BIG ARTS after years of working in a non-art field.

“It’s a fulfilling feeling to know you have come full circle,” she said. “BIG ARTS is happy to provide that venue.”

Now Churchill can’t help himself from sculpting pieces that range from papier mache lifesize figures to his purple howling dog which is juried in the BIG ARTS sculpture exhibit running through Nov. 13 at Phillips Art Gallery.

The lilac purple-hued dog appears to be expressing his need to howl to the sky. The piece which has a foam core board was not easy to construct.

“I wanted to challenge myself with the process,” he said. “It’s about the shape.”

Churchill smiles when he thinks about what his business-minded dad would think of his career. Unless he was pulling in big bucks, Churchill’s dad would not have been too keen on him having an art career.

But none of that matters much to Churchill who can finally claim he chose a career for himself.

“I always wondered what I wanted to be,” he said.

Now that he knows, he works hard to maintain his career. He is chairman of the BIG ARTS Visual Arts Committee, will be on the Board of Directors this year and spends his time learning, reading books about art and figuring out what his next piece will be.

“It’s almost like what I have to do,” Churchill said.