Beauty of Bronze in the World

Wenatchee fifth-graders try hands-on sculpting with Kevin Pettelle

The following article and interview was published in the Wenatchee World Sept. 26, 2017, 1:33 p.m:

WENATCHEE — Northwest bronze sculptor Kevin Pettelle devotes a week each autumn to work with Wenatchee fifth-graders as part of the Beauty of Bronze program. Kevin is the 2012 Artist of the Year for the Schack Arts Center in Everett. He is well known for his bronze statues, particularly of J.P. Patches on display in Seattle, and Guppo the Clown, in honor of longtime Youth Circus director Paul Pugh, on display in Wenatchee. Five of Kevin’s sculptures are on display locally.

Kevin has worked with more than 6,000 students in Wenatchee over the last 14 years — 600 this year alone — in the Beauty of Bronze program. Kids learn the elements of the art and explore specific sculptures at the Performing Arts Center and in Riverfront Park. They work collaboratively to create temporary environment sculptures from natural materials in the Andy Goldsworthy Challenge.

The final activity of the day has students creating their own sculptures out of wax, which will be sent to a foundry and cast in bronze, and returned to students to keep. The children’s sculptures will be featured at an artists’ reception held in their honor at the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center the first Friday in December.

I walked with Kevin as he headed to the sculpture garden in Riverfront Park with about 80 children from John Newbery Elementary School trailing behind, and asked him some questions. Here’s what he had to say:

What keeps you coming back to Wenatchee for weeks of full days teaching children about the art of bronze sculpture?

A I developed (the program) with Jeanette Morantos. We thought that fifth-graders are at this cusp of their life — they still have all the openness of childhood, but they’re about to enter into young adulthood. I want to not only introduce them to the concepts of sculpture … but also I wanted to have the kids experience something that they never thought they could do.

Q Tell us about your life as a sculptor.

A It’s a constant set of challenges. It never gets easy. You’re constantly having to figure things out and work through problems, and that’s one of the things that these kids will experience today when they’re creating their sculpture. They’re going to have to move through problems and I’ll be there as their guide.

What (the artist life) offers me is, in a very simplistic way, a legacy. Even though that it’s not ego-based, I think every human being wants to make a mark. Nobody will ever remember my name, but they’ll know what my soul looks like.

Q Why do you think it’s important to expose these kids to art?

I think art — especially beauty — is one of those things that opens your core. A lot of people think that art is sometimes an indulgence … that comes along if there’s the money. But I think it’s an important part of a community and a person’s life. It’s something that moves them. For a community I think it enriches the cultural aspect of it. Everything isn’t just practical — there’s something beyond that.

Q Any final thoughts about working with Wenatchee’s students?

I find it to be very inspiring. My life is usually in solitude. I love working with children. I love the way that their mind works. When I’m looking at them at the end of the day, I’m just blown away at how brilliant they are.