Sculptor Theresa Dyer working with clay
Artist Interviews

Figurative Sculptor Theresa Dyer

Over the past few years, Designer and Architect Theresa Dyer has slowly started growing her career as a figurative sculptor. While the Nashville creative got a late start you would never know based on her beautiful bronze sculptures that are publicly displayed in several cities across the US.

Theresa Dyer was born in Topeka Kansas, but her family moved all over the world due to her father being in the Air Force. As with most kids growing up in a military family, her upbringing offered and unique experiences and creative insight into different culturesat a young age. Her mom was a teacher and Theresa remembers how much she enjoyed helping decorate the bulletin board in her mother’s classroom. She fell in love with her art class, especially with drawing, and carried her sketchpad and pencils with her everywhere she went.

Sculptor Theresa Dyer portrait

Theresa pursued Interior Design in college earning her BFA at the University of North Texas. After college, she got licensed and became an interior designer in the hospitality industry gaining experience working with hotels all over the world. Over the years she worked for architects in California, Denver, and Florida before eventually landing in Nashville.

Theresa decided to continue her studies in architecture because of her love for the elements of space and form. She went back to school and earned a BFA in Architecture from the University of Tennessee finishing in Manchester, England. Becoming an architect allowed her to incorporate her love of drawing into 3D rendering, and one-point and two-point perspective sketches for her clients. She says it felt natural because they loved to see things come up from the paper. Currently, she is licensed in several states but maintains her architectural practice in Nashville, Tennessee.

Theresa Dyer architectural rendering

In 2013 Theresa signed up for drawing sessions at Alan LeQuires open studio but opted for a sculpture class because the drawings classes were full. That experience opened up an entirely new creative world for her. As she began working with terracotta clay she became bored with the need to continuously use water to keep the clay pliable. She transitioned to oil-based clay because she preferred to work slower, and it didn’t require keeping the clay moist in between sculpting sessions. Theresa admits the oil-based process is more expensive, unlike the terracotta which can be fired in a kiln after the piece is formed. With oil-based clay a mold must be made, then it goes through an extensive lost-wax process, a method of casting with molten metal.

Sculptor Theresa Dyer working

Theresa begins her process by sketching out what she wants to create making sure that she always has a sketch pad with her. Her ideas come from the experiences and things around her, and she often enjoys incorporating ancient stories of Greek and Roman mythology into her work. She begins sculpting a figure using terracotta or plasticine clay that is later cast in bronze. Her focus is primarily on portraits and single-figure compositions. She feels that her knowledge of design and architecture carries over into her sculptural work.

Public Monument competition composit
Two Bronze Boys Composite

I really enjoy figurative sculpture as opposed to abstract because the human body is unbelievably interesting. Finding new ways to express different poses is so fascinating to me. I love the way figures inhabit space yet take on a completely new look from a different angle.” 

Once the clay art piece has been hand formed, it is sent to a foundry (a sculpture casting service provider) to complete the ancient “lost wax” casting technique. With this unique and expensive method, a mold is made around the sculpture with silicone rubber, and a protective plaster mold is built around that mold to hold it all in place. The mold is then opened to remove the clay and put back together again. Wax is poured into the cavity where the original clay was. There are a series of additional steps done with the casting before the final patina is done. The chemical heat process of the patina offers a myriad of different color choices. At the end of this entire process, the sculpture then needs to be put on a base of marble, granite, stone, or wood so it can be displayed. 

Little Elizabeth Bronze sculpture
Little Elizabeth Bronze Sculpture

Because of the complexity and time that it takes with these steps being outsourced to a skillful foundry, the price of a piece of sculpture has to reflect these expenses. In order for an artist to make a profit, it is important to understand the value of their time, something Theresa says she is getting better at doing. Pricing and selling art especially sculpture often have hidden expenses that a buyer may be unaware of, understanding the creative process behind the type of art you plan to purchase will help determine its value.

Theresa shares how grateful she is for the inspiration and knowledge she has gained from local sculptors who have helped her advance with her career and work. Sculptors Russ Faxon and Alan Lequire have been her primary mentors in Nashville, helping save time with perfecting her craft on a professional level. She also still enjoys drawing but finds that most of her time is spent working with clay currently.

Theresa Dyer Drawing 3
Theresa Dyer Drawing 1

Theresa is represented by Gallery 202 in Franklin, Tennessee. Her first large commission came when she won the 2019 Public Monument competition to create a life-sized piece that was placed in front of the City Hall in Little Rock, Arkansas. She signed up with CaFÉ, a regional nonprofit arts service organization where you can research public art calls for work. When researching the call for artist listings she came across the annual art show submission for “Sculpture on the River,” they were accepting 49 artists. Theresa entered her first submission proposal and was surprised when she won. She created two bronze boys for the show that are now publically displayed in front of the Little Rock Arkansas City Hall.

Two Bronze boys at City Hall in Little Rock, Arkansas
Clay sculptures of the two boys for Sculpture On The River.
Nathan Ford adding patina
Nathan Ford, Art Castings of Colorado adding patina.
Sculpture at City Hall in Little Rock, Arkansas
Two Bronze Boys 4′ 10″ tall sculptures within 12′ 0″ stainless steel overlapping arches installed in front of City Hall, Little Rock, AR.

As Theresa continues to get commissioned for her work, she says doing life-sized sculpture is the most challenging and rewarding to create. With the help of Kelly Harwood from Gallery 202, Theresa recently received a commission for a Holocaust Memorial called Children of Shoah, for the Congregation Micah in Brentwood, Tennessee. The memorial is currently being cast and scheduled to be installed in November of 2021.

Children of Shoah Memorial Holocaust sculpture
Children of Shoah Memorial Holocaust Sculpture

Another recent piece includes a bronze memorial plaque of ​​Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin in the Astronomy Department at Harvard University, Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

As Theresa continues to slowly transition away from architecture with her new career as a sculptor, she admits she misses the design elements of architecture but not dealing with the technical aspects or codes. Her love of creating figurative sculpture is what drives her to be all in with her new endeavor.

You can find more about Theresa in The Creative Push podcast!

Visit her website or her Instagram page.

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Photographer, artist, writer and educator, Sheri Oneal views life as a blank canvas, a story waiting to be told. Her desire is to help others find motivation and purpose through creativity.

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