Tag Archives: sculptor

Kirk Vaughn-Robinson

December 18, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After a lifetime in the performing arts that culminated in 12 years on the road with the blockbuster Broadway touring production of The Phantom of the Opera in the roles of Lefevre and the Fire Chief, Kirk Vaughn-Robinson had come to learn more than a little bit about stagecraft.

But few scenes were as amateurishly staged as the one that played out in his hotel room almost every night in the latter years of his musical theatre career.

“I had this wobbly collapsible table I bought for $20 at Walgreens, a rickety foldable chair, a simple clamp light, and a lazy susan,” says the Muncie, Ind., native who later grew up on a horse farm in Florida. “It was just all so totally absurd.”

Outside of his Broadway gig, the triple threat singer-actor-dancer had performed with the Cincinnati Opera, Dayton Opera, Sorg & Whitewater Opera companies, and the Cincinnati Pops, all after attending the famed American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria.

But Kirk Vaughn-Robinson was now learning a new artform. Carting his curious ensemble of new “props” from town to town, he was teaching himself to become a sculptor.

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“It’s only fitting that I have established my first studio here in Council Bluffs,” Vaughn-Robinson says from the surprisingly spacious 1,100-square-foot space in the Harvester Artspace Lofts that has been his live/work home for over a year, “because my sculpting career began when Phantom was here in 2008. I executed my first work here.”

Things moved fast, he says, once he mustered the courage to show his work and the owner of the very first gallery he visited signed the novice sculptor on the spot.

Now venturing increasingly into abstract castings, Vaughn-Robinson is perhaps best known for his exquisitely crafted figurative bronzes of men, horses, mermen and, yes, even dorsal fin-sporting “merhorses.”

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Exhibiting a visual language of sensual romanticism, he renders classic ideals of beauty in timeless archetypes that speak to themes that are at once natural and organic, theatrical, and dramatic.

Vaughn-Robinson continues performing in a more localized, scaled-down slate of opera and musical appearances. He recently played the role of Pish-Tush in the Opera Omaha production of The Mikado and was nominated for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for his work in The Sound of Music at The Rose.

Vaughn-Robinson won’t rule out the idea of returning to a big touring production, but for now is happy to sculpt away in Council Bluffs as his gallery representation and commission business grows.

His two worlds—the stage and the studio—offer a stark contrast in workplace experiences.

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“Just as being a part of a huge touring company is a decidedly social affair,” he explains, “sculpting is instead very solitary. It is a meditative time for me. My most common experience in all those hotel rooms over the years was that I would be lost in my work and, thinking that maybe a half hour had gone by, I’d suddenly realize that dawn was breaking. It is a spiritual experience for me, and I like to think that this is reflected in my bronzes.”

Curatorial Precision

March 1, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The hot trend of one-room living is often driven by necessity and the need to make the most of smallish spaces. The phenomenon is especially prominent in such sky-high housing markets as New York, L.A., and San Francisco. John Prouty had no such constraints when planning his sprawling 4,000 square foot space, but he still employed a keen touch when it came to curatorial precision.“My new rule for the year is that for every one new thing I bring in,” says Prouty, “two old things need to go.” It’s a doubly vital part of his thinking, considering that his home features thousands of works of art, books, and other elements of décor, yet  it bears no hint of appearing in any way cluttered.

One of the keys to Prouty’s sleight-of-hand feat is that each area of his one-room dwelling is set up to define its own distinct space within a space. The home is delineated into about a dozen distinct zones with identities and functions of their own. The result is a pronounced sense of “roomness”. It is the opposite of what might be expected of an otherwise wide-open expanse beneath 19-foot ceilings. The floor plan is interrupted only by a slightly elevated but still open bedroom nook.

“I use every square inch of my space every single day,” he adds. “Not a lot of people can say that about their homes.”

Prouty and his brother, Jim, own the three contiguous buildings that they merged into one along South 25th Street in the heart of historic South Omaha. Now dubbed Prouty Place, the structures—one of them 120 years old—are almost entirely a family affair. Jim’s daughters, Jami and Juli, own the Salon at Prouty Place. Next door is home to the family’s 110-year-old business, Wessco Graphics. Prouty lives on the second floor, and the basement is rented to a Pentecostal Church whose congregation is largely Guatemalan.

20140108_bs_9974Prouty is also a sculptor, photographer, and mixed media artist who maintains his studio as part of the site’s street-level art venue called The Gallery at Prouty Place.

The project began seven years ago when hundreds of dumpsters were filled with the flotsam and jetsam of the former occupant, a uniform business. One year of what Prouty calls “deconstruction” yielded to a full year of construction before he moved in five years ago.

No detail was too small to escape Prouty’s systematic method when it came to the art and science of one-room living. The design process for the floating kitchen islands, for example, was governed by what the homeowner calls a “double-butted” approach. And he’s not talking here about how the kitchen’s plumbing was joined.

“My brother and I stood in while kitchen measurements were done,” he says, “and the idea was that people had to be able to easily pass between us as we stood back to back at the opposing counters preparing food or mixing drinks. Our butts were a bit smaller back then,” he quips, “but it still works just fine.”

Another striking feature of the home is the very intentional use of black paint on the walls. “People think I’m crazy,” Prouty says, “but I’ve done this in each of my last five homes. That dark background creates the illusion that the art literally floats” in a field of nothingness. The effect is particularly pronounced at night when the man who describes himself as a compulsive entertainer hosts everything from intimate soirées to fundraising events attended by a cast of thousands—make that more like 200-plus.

His global village art and artifact collection—including a staggering 93 of his own works—has been accumulated during world travels that have had him flashing a visa in 83 different countries. Acquisitions have been made everywhere from the mountaintops of Peru to the sidewalks of Paris. Also included are a number of works by local artists, perhaps most notably Terry Rosenberg. One of his six Rosenbergs was executed on an M’s Pub napkin. Prouty himself was the subject in another.

The artist’s collecting philosophy is a simple one. “Do I like it? Yes or no. Can I afford it? Yes or no,” he says. “That’s all there is to it. I never regret buying anything, and I never go back to look at something a second time. Never.”

Community involvement has always been a part of Prouty family life, says the man who serves on the City of Omaha Public Art Commission and also volunteers at Omaha South High School. His counseling role at the school has included several group art projects, and the Westside High School graduate is now proud to count himself as an honorary South High student.

“Integrating into the neighborhood is important to us,” says Prouty, who is also a member of the South Omaha Business Association. Brother Jim, who is learning Spanish, works with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“Downtown was more of a café society vibe,” Prouty says of his previous home, “but South Omaha is much more natural and organic. This is still a very urban, colorful, and bustling neighborhood— just like Downtown—but it is much more family oriented here. And much, much quieter.”

That prevailing mood of serenity sets the tone for Prouty’s contemplative, almost Zen-like approach to making his space work.

“It’s all in the editing process,” he adds. “Hey, you magazine guys must know that better than I do. It’s all about the editing.”

Littleton Alston

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Littleton Alston’s 8-ft bronze statue of Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson catches the moment the ball’s just been released. “It’s when the will and the training and the gift come together,” says the sculptor. “It’s the crescendo of intent.”

Alston’s sculpture embodies motion in its dynamic pose. Leaning into the pitch, the muscled body spirals upward from the left foot—the lower body forward, the shoulders and arms swung wide to the left. The right arm and leg are powerful horizontal flourishes; the left foot, like a dancer’s en pointe, anchors man to earth and channels a diagonal bolt of sheer energy. Only the head is still, as Gibson’s intense gaze follows the ball to its precise target.

Such flawless execution comes from years of training, exercising through fatigue, inclement weather, or personal discouragement. Equally important is the determination, the focus on one’s goal. And thirdly, an inherent gift. This trivium is the foundation of a career in sports and in the arts.

Alston played baseball for one semester in high school, but it was enough to give him a better understanding of himself. “It’s both an individual and a team sport,” he said. “Sometimes you have to forgo the ego for a greater good.” And although he liked baseball, he recognized that it was not his gift. Besides, Alston’s school experience was not one of free time and hobby sports.20130307_bs_8479_Web

Growing up poor in Washington, D.C.’s Northeast neighborhood, Alston and his two closest brothers quickly learned the value of self- and mutual reliance, street smarts, and independence. From home, they could look all the way down East Capitol Street to see the Capitol dome, topped by its statue, Freedom. After one astonishing Christmas when each child got a bike, Capitol Hill became the boys’ playground. Bicycling a couple of miles from home to Hill was hot work in Washington’s humid summers, and the inviting waters of the many reflecting pools were irresistible. They leap-frogged from one to another, sometimes with police in pursuit. Alston particularly liked the pool at the Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) with its 40-ft Calder stabile. A cool dip was what first appealed to the children, but Alston was unconsciously absorbing the lessons of form embodied in the public art and distinguished buildings.

In junior and senior high school, police presence signaled a much more dangerous environment than summer shenanigans, and violence seemed an unavoidable whirlpool. It was Alston’s gift, an insistent urge to draw, and his mother’s recognition of that talent, that provided him a way out—acceptance at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. It was a gift that demanded constantly that he push past his definitions of endurance, of ability, of understanding. And when he won the senior art prize and a scholarship to Virginia Commonwealth University, the training continued. As his skills were honed, so was his will, so that one night, after his job as a janitor, he was determined to finish a painting assignment. When it was completed, he was so exhausted that he laid his cheek against the wet paint and slept.

After 35 years, he still feels the derision of the teacher and other students, and his own bitter anger. But, sometimes, the ego has to be put aside for a greater good.

Alston with his statue at the unveiling. Photo by Dave Jenkins.

Alston with his statue at the unveiling. Photo by Dave Jenkins.

Littleton Alston got his degree from VCU, and an MFA from Rinehart School of Sculpture. He is Associate Professor of Sculpture at Creighton University and maintains a private studio. Among his awards, the most recent is Midtown Business Association’s 2013 City of Omaha Community Excellence Award for “The Jazz Trio,” located in North 24th’s Dreamland Plaza. Alston has worked in abstract style, but prefers figurative. His website’s home page bears this statement:

“The human form holds endless fascination for me, and it is this vehicle through which I believe can best express the joys and sorrows of the human condition.”

When offered the Bob Gibson commission, Alston took time to think it over. He’d never sculpted a sports figure, but felt “immense respect” for Gibson as a “trailblazer” in terms of racial equality and changes to the game. He was fascinated by the form of a ball player in action, and by the “aging champion” who sat for him.

Alston’s sculpture of Bob Gibson was unveiled April 11 at Werner Park. The presentation was a time of honor for Gibson, but also for Alston. Each man has created a life using will, training, and his unique gift. Every release of the ball, every unveiling strikes a crescendo of intent, an expression that goes out into the world contributing its own perfect harmony.

To view more of Littleton Alston’s work, visit alstonsculpture.com. To view the Bob Gibson Project, visit bobgibsonproject.org.