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Prestigious Living in Central NJ
Review by Diane Tartaglia (Winter 2004)

The Bronze Beast Among US

Lambertville sculptor Dana Stewart clearly loves powerful reactions to his art


His animals laugh at us and bare their teeth. Others lift their heads and reveal subtle smiles or fling their countenance upwards and bay at the imagined moon. The tails on the beasts soar off into space or appear blunt like clubs, all giving such interesting character to the bronze beasts.
These are bronze sculptor Dana Stewart’s beasts, and each can tell a different story depending on who is looking at them. But as far as Mr. Stewart is concerned, when it comes to interpretation, there are no wrong answers.
“I’m using the animal as a canvas, so it’s not a real dog or a real dinosaur,” Mr Stewart says. “But when people say to me, ‘Is that an aardvark?’ I say – you got it!”
And then another asks him if one of his beasts is a coatimundi, a South American mammal that resembles a fox, and the artist tells him, “Yes, that’s exactly it!”
Mr. Stewart clearly loves recounting the public reaction to his bronze sculpture. It gives him great pleasure when someone finds something about the piece that they can identify with, even if that had nothing to do with the genesis of the creature.
As I viewed the animals on Mr. Stewart’s property and at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, I found it fascinating how each beast belies a different emotion. They become whatever creature you can conjure – mythical or real – and your imagination is the limit. For bronze sculpture, they have a tremendous ability to show movement and whimsy or strength, then teetering off balance and almost falling over. They growl and bark at us, show us their snarls and challenge our minds.
Dana Stewart is excited and passionate about his art, as well he should be. He is prolific artist, and his fascination and enthusiasm with his work and life in general continue to inform and inspire his art. His interest in art started in high school, when he did some ceramic pieces and a friend told him they were great.
“So I took a wagon load of ceramics around my neighborhood and made $150 in 45 minutes,” remembers Mr. Stewart.
After high school, he attended San Diego State University to continue to pursue his interest in art. The ceramics department was next to the sculpture department, so, he says, “A lot of oxyacetylene was going on. It looked intriguing, and I started with welded steel sculpture.”
A professor of his at San Diego State inspired his interest in bronze casting, and in 1977, he mad his way to The Johnson Atelier. The atelier was founded by J.Seward Johnson, Jr. in 1974 and was properly named Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture. Its home is located near the Grounds for Sculpture, and it’s where Herk van Tongeren, who was helping to establish the atelier, beckoned California-native Mr. Stewart to the East Coast.
“The atelier was a great place – a melting pot – with people from all over the world – Haiti, Ghana, France and Canada,” Mr. Stewart says. “The idea, I believe that Seward (Johnson) had, was to hire a lot of artists that would be sensitive about working on other artist’s work, instead of a factory-type mentality. It was fantastic to work with other artists and learn the technique by doing it everyday.”
After several years as head of the ceramic shell department at The Johnson Atelier and positions at Rutgers University and other area colleges, the sculptor founded his own business, Stewart Sculptor Casting, in the mid-1980s. He continues to produce his own work, as well as cast other artist’s work, at this foundry at 13 Old River Rd. in Lambertville.
“That’s how I pay the mortgage,” Mr. Stewart says. Besides his own work at his foundry, he has cast a fireman by Selma Burke, an 8-foot figure of Senator J. William Fulbright, a figure of Thomas Paine and a 1-ton bronze dinosaur, among many other pieces. The Haddonfield dinosaur is one of the largest pieces to be cast in the foundry. The “Hadrosuarus Foulkii,” by artist John Giannotti, was cast in 2003 byMr. Stewart and his assistants and commemorates the historic discovery of the first dinosaur bones found in Haddonfield in 1858.
Besides the Grounds for Sculpture, which has 12 pieces on loan from the artist, his studio (and eventually his home) also doubles as a place to view his work. His fit as a favorite at the Grounds for Sculpture is a great story and the artist tells it like this – “Funny thing was that my ex-wife and I had a show at the Extension Gallery. Sewart (Johnson) came through, and he liked all the beasts, and he had this idea for the first one-man show at the Grounds for Sculpture. Twelve pieces all in a big circle! Seward actually bought one, and the rest have been on loan.”
All of Mr. Stewart’s pieces are for sale, and he has the molds on all of them. “I might do an additional seven (castings), but on the larger pieces, I might do one and no more than three,” he says.
Bronze pieces line the driveway to his studio and ascend up the picturesque hill behind the artist’s home. “This view is great in winter, when the grass has died and the sculpture is visible from many vantage points,” says Mr. Stewart.
One of the sculptor’s larger pieces, “Boomer,” which is currently on loan at the Rockland Center for the Arts in West Nyack, N.Y., recently sat playfully in the artist’s front yard and beckoned for one to jump on and take a ride. In fact, the artist placed little footholds in the rear of “Boomer,” so that his children, now 11 and 13, would be able to climb on board.
“I like animals and I like whimsy, and you can anthropomorphize with an animal,” Mr. Stewart says. “I can give them a hone little attitude and I can give them names like ‘Bright Spot at the End of the Tale’.”
Further indication of his whimsy and humor is how “Boomer” got his name. The 10th anniversary for the Grounds for Sculpture was being planned, and the staff wanted him to name the large beast, so seeing his pet Chihuahua run by at that moment, the artist said, “name him after Boomer.”
He talks excitedly about how his early professors felt about the beast’s tails, which were the subjects of much discussion. “I like the animals, but the tail bother me,” said one of his professors. “It was at that moment I realized, that’s the thing! That’s the hook!” says Mr. Stewart. And the tails remained and became somewhat of a signature to Mr. Stewart’s bronze beasts.
At first not sure about the art pieces that line the drive to his studio, I later discovered they are renderings of waves – ocean waves – that are a reminder of his life growing up in California. For a California boy who studied at San Diego State University and surfed the waves in between realizing his artistic vision, he still surfs today and proudly states, “I just bought a new board. I have six boards.”
Hmmm. Surfer and sculptor. I imagine the ocean would provide all kinds of inspiration. Catch Mr. Stewart’ work on display at the Grounds for Sculpture or in his studio. It is inspirational and fascinating all at once. “Imagination is the frontier,” says Mr. Stewart. Indeed!

Diane Tartaglia
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