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Artist of the Month: Sculptor Jim Bright

by on February 27, 2017 2:23 PM

“I hope that people who view my sculptures will feel some of the wonder and curiosity that I bring to the sculptural process. I want to engage my viewers in a dialog without dominating that conversation,” says Jim Bright, a sculptor from Millheim who has been experimenting with materials and creating sculptures for more than 35 years.

His works take their form from three main materials: wood, stone, and bronze, which are very different in terms of carving and therefore, each brings different visions of subject matter.

“My tendency is to approach all in a subtractive way,” says Bright, who will exhibit some of his work in the Figurative Show March 10-19 at the Art Alliance in Lemont. “It is really satisfying to see forms that seem to reveal themselves through this deliberate carving process.”

After studying art education, fine arts, and sculpture at Penn State and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Bright worked with other artists at the Creative Art Studios in Lucca, Italy. He then returned to the United States and began teaching art to high school students in Lewistown. He has taught adult sculpture classes at the Art Alliance and works daily in his studio.

Bright has had no desire to leave Central Pennsylvania because of the beautiful local woods that can be found in almost any forest in the area — woods such as cherry, walnut, and maple, whose structures are dense and tough but which yield sculptures that have a rich permanence. Not only did the abundance of wood keep Bright grounded in this region, “my sense of belonging to a place is strong, and Central PA always felt like home,” he says. 

Inspiration for Bright comes out of many diverse places, which is why his sketchbook is always at his side.

“I really enjoy the discovery process,” he says. “Subjects seem to come to life from memories, stories, old family photos, or some combination of form and event. Other subjects hold still for discovery and study but hide by blending into the visual barrage of daily life.”

Some of his current sculptures are composites, which contain multiple subjects or ideas that are related. These composites start from inspiration that differs from a single-subject sculpture. As Bright describes, “One series of sculptures contains both architectural forms and organic ones in the same work in effort to study resolution.”

Bright’s method of producing a sculpture, though, is a strenuous and lengthy process. It begins with inspiration and sketching and ends with a fully developed three-dimensional form.

“Drawings and small sculptural models, or maquette, in clay or wax allow me to explore the various design considerations of these ideas,” he says. “The small scale of the maquette allows experimentation with changes to the original concept. At this point, I usually try to simplify the overall form in an effort to get at the essence of the idea. This ‘peeling away’ of extraneous details helps to develop the flow and rhythms that are important to me.”

From starting with a small-scale model of clay, he may choose to bring this maquette to life by producing a large-scale wood version of the model.

“Over the years, I have come to appreciate the individual characteristics and growth histories that each billet brings to the sculpture. Sometimes the tree is so powerful and so interesting that it takes on a bigger role,” he says.

He enjoys experimenting with wood especially, as opposed to stone and bronze, because “wood has warmth and personality that seems to fit my style and expression.”

When asked about his favorite part about sculpting, he thinks for a minute and says, “for me, carving is the most rewarding of all forms of expression. The physical and the rhythmic part of the process is good for me. Every sculpture is different. If there was a formula for it, I would’ve lost interest and I would have quit making them a long time ago.”

The Figurative Show is March 10-19 at the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania in Lemont. For more information, visit


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