St. Louis: FameBooking had the pleasure of interviewing internationally renowned sculptor and St. Louis celebrity Harry Weber. We know many of you have seen his work, and would love to know some background on the man behind some of St. Louis’ most iconic sculptures, including the Cardinals’ legends at Busch Stadium, “Forces” (the Stifel Bull and Bear) at One Financial Plaza, and "The Captains' Return" – the bronze statue of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their faithful companion dog, Seaman, located near the Arch.
Perhaps you’ve heard of one of his latest installations honoring St. Louis’ relationship with her sister city, Nanjing. Soon Harry Weber will be traveling to Nanjing for the installation of his statue of St. Louis celebrity Adam Wainwright – caught mid pitch – not to a batter in China, but to a Nanjing batter who will stay in St. Louis waiting to swing. Even though 7,000 miles separates these players, symbolically they are only 60 feet apart. Weber’s ability to capture his subjects in the moment is probably the single greatest reason for the longevity of his career, and renown.
How did you end up becoming a sculptor?
It was the direct result of a bad habit formed in my distant youth of drawing on anything I could find…no tablecloth was safe. This translated into sketching the world I saw everyday. The sculpture came later, but I like to think that the sculptures I do - that take six months to a year to complete - have the same spontaneity as a sketch that takes six minutes.
What, if anything in particular, do you suppose made you such a success at it?
I always tell students that you need three things to be a success in any artistic or athletic endeavor: work, talent, and luck. If you are missing any one of the three, you are sunk. I have been very lucky.
Pretend we’re totally ignorant about bronze sculpting, which we are. Can you briefly walk us through the process?
It is a process that has not changed much in 2,000 years. In my work, we start with small models to work out all the problems of movement and design. Then, we build armatures to size (life or bigger) to hold the clay. I sculpt the full figure in clay. Then molds are pulled from this original art, and waxes are, in turn, pulled from these molds. For a life-sized figure, there are usually a dozen or more individual molds and waxes. Those waxes go to the foundry where they are encased in ceramic shell, the wax is burned out, and bronze is poured into the resulting cavity in the ceramic. Those dozen or so pieces of bronze are shipped back to us and we weld them together and finish the piece…very, very labor-intensive stuff.
When you go to one of the (30+) cities your pieces are in, do you ever make a point of visiting your piece there?
If I have time, I do. I like revisiting the work if I can.
You must recall making each piece in detail. Are there any that stand out in your mind?
The large and difficult ones do stand out. Perhaps the most memorable include: the Stifel Bull and Bear, “Forces” (the base and animals at 3,000 pounds each); the multi-figure diorama in the lobby of the Drury Plaza Hotel of the Lewis and Clark expedition; the 22-foot statue of the “Captains Return” near the Arch; Bobby Orr in Boston; the Texas Revolutionary in Nacogdoches, Texas.
How long does each one take?
Usually between six months and a year. Only about a third of that is taken up by the original art in clay. The other two thirds are molds and waxes and casting and assembly.
You’ve said you want your sculptures to look as “emotionally” real as possible. Meaning what?
I want people to see a sculpture and feel what it must have been like to be the person depicted in the moment. This goes for historical figures as well as athletes…I want the sculpture to be “alive.”
Do you have a favorite?
I really don’t…there are things I like about each one…sort of like children.
Did you meet any of your (human) subjects in person and are there any that you hit it off with?
Several subjects have become friends…notably Jack Buck and Ozzie Smith.
What is most satisfying for you in the process?
Every part of it has some satisfaction, but I think seeing the sculpture in place, installed, and permanent is the best.
Are there other art forms you are good at?
Sketching from life is still my principal joy, and I carry a sketchbook with me wherever I go. Acting is something I love as well, but I only get to find time for a play once every couple of years.
What is next on your agenda?
A group of four storytellers gathered around a table to be installed in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a sculpture of Adam Wainwright that will be installed in Nanjing, China.
Thank you for talking with us! In closing, tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
My wife and I met steeplechase racing when we were both jockeys.
St. Louis can certainly be proud of this St. Louis Country Day School and Princeton University graduate whose art has graced not only this metropolis, but 25 other states, along with international installations. The stories Harry Weber can tell make him a sought-after St. Louis celebrity.