Winding Roads & Stuffed Gorillas

By: Amy Beck, marketing and communications manager on October 30th, 2013

If you want to get fifth-graders’ attention, a big stick that shoots fire certainly helps.

Paul Rhymer, looming large still clad in his mask and leather gloves after blasting flames and pouring molten metal into molds, was holding court.

“You don’t always know where different experiences will take you,” the bronze sculptor told students during class visits to the Woodson Art Museum during his artist residency last week.

Paul explained that he drew and painted his way through his childhood, thinking he’d become an artist. Because he’d also acquired taxidermy skills, he was equipped to step into a job at the Smithsonian that led to a twenty-five-year career as a taxidermist and model maker there.

That experience skinning and mounting animals coupled with his observations of birds and animals while hunting and during two years in Africa gave him detailed knowledge of anatomy, movement, and behavior.

That knowledge helped immensely as he experimented with bronze sculpting on the side. Varied experiences, layered with lots of practice prepared him to pursue sculpting full time when the opportunity arose to take early retirement from the Smithsonian.

All of those experiences led him along a winding road from his home in Maryland to the artist residency tent in the Museum’s sculpture garden. His drive, with his two dogs along for the ride, included a detour to Oklahoma to drop off a gorilla he’d mounted and packed into a U-haul trailer for transport to a museum there.

Who knows what creative sparks might be ignited in the students who witnessed Paul’s fire-breathing, bronze-casting demonstrations and where their winding roads may lead?

PS. Paul Rhymer’s residency, “Casting Call,” was supported in part by a Community Arts Grant with funds from the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Arts Board, and the B.A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation, and a Wisconsin Art Education Association (WAEA) Potawatomi Grant.

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