Have I told you all how bad I am at drawing? It’s a tragedy. Really. My people don’t have necks or bottoms. It’s just head, torso, legs. I’m pretty sure that in real life, these figures couldn’t move. I cry for them, living their immobile lives in the imaginary world of bad art that exists in my head.
Every so often, I talk to someone who reminds me of just how bad an artist I am. Alan Clement is one of those people. He’s an 86-year-old sculptor who owns a shop out in Lafayette Village in North Raleigh. He’s only been there for two years, but he’s been doing his art since long before that.
He’s been sculpting since 1988, but had a few careers prior. First he ran a company of creative types who did art for corporations and bands. After that, he discovered he had a knack for teaching successful people how to talk.
“I fell into that when I got to New York. I was making presentations for companies,” he said. “I’d go to one of these big national meetings, and the CEO would say, ‘Hey Alan, can you give me some tips on speaking?’”
He realized two things: He was a good speaker, and there was a market for teaching others how to do it.
He soon got a job teaching pharmaceutical reps his tricks and eventually found his way down to North Carolina, but not before falling in love with sculpting.
He’d been in New York for more than 20 years when that happened.
“I’d pass this sculpture shop each week,” he said. “I said, ‘That looks like fun.’ ”
He began frequenting the shop, and from there he picked up the sculpting bug. He was about 40 then, in 1988, and he moved to North Carolina in 1993. A couple of years later he started sculpting seriously, but it wasn’t until 2000 that he started doing his art full time.
I imagine it must be pretty hard to make a full-time living sculpting. After all, in the age of the Internet and digital photography, who needs a stone reproduction of real objects anymore? Clement agreed that sculpture isn’t for everybody, but it has a certain niche, and he benefits by referrals from all over the country.
“There isn’t a lot of demand,” he said. “But I’ll tell you where most of my work is coming from is people who are wanting to honor the memory of grandma or someone like that.”
He said sometimes the sons or daughters of family members will decide to really memorialize their loved ones in style. And Clement has a unique ability to help them.
“After all these years, I have a faculty for capturing the expression or character of the individual,” he said.
Clement said he developed that ability through his work as a member of Stephen Ministries. In that group, he helps counsel people who are going through some sort of difficulty, and in the training he learned how to be a good listener and observer – skills that help him as a sculptor. He’s been doing his ministry work for about 18 years now, and he makes it a priority.
“That’s kind of been the most important thing in my life,” he said.
It was only two years ago that he decided to open up his shop, The Village Sculptor, in Lafayette Village. He liked the European feel of the area, and he knew it would attract wealthy shoppers.
“Only the wealthy can afford sculptures,” he said. “My sculptures run a couple grand sometimes, you know? Especially if it’s a woman with a fancy hairdo.”
Turns out that hair is tough to do in stone. It takes a lot of extra work to get those locks just right.
At 86, Clement is still active, working at his shop, doing his ministry work and exercising regularly. With any luck, his sculpting will continue for years to come. And even when he’s gone, his sculptures will endure.
Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at email@example.com.