Memorial Sculpting for Grief Recovery 1...

I recently met with a woman about a commission to sculpt a memorial for her son "M", who died from cancer 3 years earlier at age 12. She happened to be coming to Loveland with her younger son and we were able to meet and talk all about her son, her family's strong Christian faith and how, now that some time has passed, she was ready to try to create a lasting tribute to the memory of M. We spent nearly 2 hours at a coffee shop and I let her talk, telling me all about M and her family while I listened and took notes. I think I understood what she wanted: to lessen those sad images and feelings of when her active, baseball-loving son was confined to a wheelchair and undergoing treatment, unable to play and keep up with his friends any more. She wanted to celebrate and remember his joy, his humor, his love of life - to give him his mobility back, as it were. This is a journey of faith and of healing and I'm touched, honored and feel the great responsibility of being the hands that try to do just that. May God guide my hands - so that the clay that moves under them creates a sculpture that helps heals the sad wounds of a family that lost a child so young.

Sketching for memorial sculpture ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

This is a very personal journey for the family and they have given me permission to share their story and the creation of the bronze memorial in the hope that others suffering loss or sadness can see the powerful healing that can happen with faith through art. 

Her first thought was that she wanted a 1/2 life-size bronze sculpture of M to be placed in a garden on their small acreage property. Later she considered a life-size or 3/4 life-size sculpture. In our initial conversation there were some key elements that we decided needed to be worked into the composition: a baseball to represent fun and freedom, the family had a favorite Bible verse (I Isaiah 40:31), an eagle and she would like him to be holding a bowl - which would connect him with the family. We decided that she, her husband and her younger son would each make something small and unique to add to the bowl - and they could change these items out at will over time. I did a quick pencil sketch of our ideas and sent them off to the foundries for pricing.  

After receiving the quotes for the larger bronzes, however, as much as she would have loved that idea, the costs of life-size bronze (in a single edition of one) were beyond their reach. Bronze is quite expensive.

In talking with her about that I mentioned that perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. While a life-size bronze would be stunning in their garden - what if they move? What if they downsize and need to move to a smaller home in the future? If the work were smaller, she could place it easily in their home, protected from the elements. They could see the sculpture of their son at any time, find a special place in their home and light it well - it would feel more personal, more protected. Then, it would also go with them easily, where the future may take them.

Those thoughts were comforting and appealing to her and they agreed that a 24" sculpture really would be perfect for them, so we changed the scope of work. They also decided that they would rather have both her boys in one sculpture showing how close they were despite the age gap between them. 

This time, instead of sketching on paper I used some armature wire and made two quick armatures and sculpted the boy with his little brother, who is standing on tiptoe to curiously peak at what will be placed in the bowl. I also sculpted a Bible, open to their verse and a baseball. The client really appreciated being able to see the small sketch from all angles and seeing her son again, even in such a rough clay sketch knocked her back a bit - she was taken by surprise at the powerful emotions and needed to put the photos aside for a while - I can't even image the family's pain. Of course I told her to take her time - if and when she was ready, I would still be here for them.

Clay sketch of two boys ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

After a few weeks, she was able to look at the photos of the clay sketch again and this time there was a bit of joy mixed in with the pain and sorrow. She had been so shocked to see her son in 3D the first time that it overwhelmed her, but this time she was prepared and knew that she'd be looking into his face again. So she and the family spent some time with the sketches and eventually she wrote back to express her gratitude and to say that things were close but could I emphasize their heartfelt caring and tenderness rather than curiosity? I responded yes - that is my job - to capture people's spirit in my sculpture and that I would find a way to do just what she and her family needed.


The clay sketch (Maquette) is just that, a sketch. It helps so much to show a client, in 3d, what may be hard to show in words or in a 2d sketch. When sculpting a loose maquette it gist is to have a model that you can convey ideas with and that is flexible so you can modify and make changes. In my next entry that is exactly what I'll do. After talking with the family and pondering it for a bit I was ready to make changes - not huge changes but sometimes subtle changes make a huge difference.

This first sketch was made at 10" high using Chavant Clayette in soft.

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