Oh Happy Day: The Sculptor Speaks

Posted in Feature, More Stories, Second Chance, Visual Art
"Man with Umbrella" bronze by Jeff Day  (photo courtesy of the artist)

“Man with Umbrella” bronze by Jeff Day (photo courtesy of the artist)

Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
July 30, 2014

Jeff Day is a storyteller, plain and simple.

His thoughtful bronze sculptures speak—conveying feelings such as calm, cool and serene. And his storytelling ability, so obvious in his purposeful bronze figures, reaches beyond the art gallery. In every way, Jeff is a storyteller—congenial, expressive and happy to share a tale. In fact, in his case, Jeff’s art may actually represent the “unspoken” side of his story.

Part of his seemingly extroverted nature may come from acting in theatre productions since the age of ten. Around that same time, he began attending classes in painting and drawing that were offered to gifted students through the Frye Art Museum in Seattle.

Day has a relaxed storytelling style that was probably honed while hanging out at the Blue Moon Tavern, the now-iconic gathering place for artists of all sorts during the sixties. The Blue Moon is where Jeff met Hector Dewart and Bill Cumming. Cumming, an associate of the Northwest School, was already becoming well-known, and Dewart was his frame maker. These lasting friendships became significant influences on both Day’s personal and artistic style and his skill as a sculptor.

Day's studio in Langley  (photo by Martha McCartney)

Day’s studio in Langley (photo by Martha McCartney)

And then there were the stories he heard from his father. Especially loved was the account of his dad’s triumphant return from Germany and the 1936 Olympics—gold medal in hand—after he and the other members of the University of Washington’s eight-oar rowing crew vanquished the elite European rowers, a feat that earned them hero status and ticker tape parades. This event is now chronicled in the nonfiction book “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown.


Jeff Day with one of his bronze sculptures (photo by Martha McCartney)

Through his son’s eyes, Dr. Charles Ward Day, was a hero in other ways. Not coming from wealth, and working hard through medical school, he demonstrated once again his determination to come from behind. I asked Mr. Day for a story about his father.

“When my father started to make some money as a doctor, he decided that it was time to splurge a bit. He purchased all new furniture and had wall-to-wall carpet installed; that carpet was a big deal in those years. Of course, my mother instantly laid down the rule that everyone had to take off their shoes before they came into the house. My dad’s response to her new rule was to step onto a marble-topped table and begin tap dancing. He said that we owned the furnishings; they did not own us.”

Bronze walking woman by Jeff Day  (photo courtesy of the artist

Bronze walking woman by Jeff Day (photo courtesy of the artist

When asked what influence his father’s accomplishments have had on his life and work, Day uncharacteristically responded with only one word, “perseverance.”

It’s likely that the artist’s steady and assured nature as well as his articulate expression come from a combination of these influences, and yet they remain only part of his fascinating life story.

Day considers Washington his home, but during the last several years he has spent a lot of time in Turkey and, more recently, in China. These places continue to influence his body of work.

While in Turkey he watched people who were either strolling or hurrying through the streets flanking the shores of the Bosphorus. Much of his current sculptural work is reflective of these images.

Abstract, bronze by Jeff Day  (photo courtesy of Jeff Day)

Abstract, bronze by Jeff Day (photo courtesy of Jeff Day)

The stalwart sturdy figures of people going here and there have been captured in bronze. Each individual appears to be caught up in routine daily activity while lost in thoughts of planning dinner, ticking off lists or anticipating a warm drink with a friend. They are held still momentarily—like a single frame in a motion picture.

In each of his sculptures, there is a sense of determination, persistence and the will to endure. There are figures sculpted as a poignant message, an empathetic statement in regard to China’s One Child policy. A father gazes at his young daughter blankly while she seems filled with only the wish to be valued.

“I dance back and forth between figurative work and abstracts,” Day said, explaining a distinct juxtaposition of subject matter in his bronze sculptures. “When I work with abstracts I am inspired by organic forms that are windswept, timeworn and tenacious. Then I am drawn back to exploring the human condition. I want to express the deepest emotions of people that, even in solitude, speak of connections. For me, it is all about the heart and the soul.”

Inside the artist's studio on Whidbey Island  (photo by Martha McCartney)

Inside the artist’s studio on Whidbey Island (photo by Martha McCartney)

Day is now living part time in China and teaches bronze casting at the Nanjing Fine Arts Foundry. His students are learning each step of the complex and meticulous process of lost-wax casting. They receive instruction starting with clay sculpture and work through the multiple-step process that finally results in the actual pouring of the bronze. Filing, polishing and buffing all come before the application of patina, which he explains is one of the most critical elements.

Jeff Day’s work can be found in public installations and major corporate collections and he is represented by several fine art galleries. His contact information, artist resume and portfolio can be viewed online.

The Brackenwood Gallery in Langley is honored to present an exhibition of his work. Opening night is 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday August 2 and the show continues through September 1.

Despite his exceptional ability to express himself in words, it just might be that his art speaks loudest of all.

Perseverance? It’s a fine legacy.

Martha is a poet, photographer, mixed-media artist, persistent gardener and candle-maker. She has never really gotten over not being photographed for a Richard Brautigan book cover. Currently she is learning to navigate by using her inner compass, which she keeps pointed towards her own true north.


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