Sabra Tull Meyer with bust of famous Missourian David Barton.
Creating larger-than-life art in bronze
Sabra Tull Meyer, Missouri Artist Extraordinaire
by Bruce Rodgers
Sculptor Sabra Tull Meyer in her studio.
(photo by Patti Klinge)
When Sabra Tull Meyer accepts the 2014 Individual Artist award from the Missouri Arts Council in the Capitol Rotunda in Jefferson City, MO on Feb. 5, the energetic, gracile 86 year old will leave a wondrous impression to those in attendance. They will note her big smile enhancing her small frame, hear her strong voice give a sincere, grateful thanks, and then to those to whom Meyer is a newly known artist, they will be amazed that such a person could create so many works of art — over 70 in Missouri alone — after starting, what some would say, so late in life.
It was the 1970s. Three of her children were in college; the youngest in high school with a newly earned driver's license. The demands of motherhood had lessened and life was good with husband Jim. Still, the artistic urge remained strong, painting and drawing when there was time, after all, her mother and great grandmother, both named Sabra, had been painters. Now, there was more time. At 50, Meyer went back to the University of Missouri to pursue a master's degree in art and fine arts. But painting did not dominate her interest. It was sculpture.
Sabra Tull Meyer with sculptures of the Yang sisters.
"In my undergraduate days, they did not offer sculpture," said Meyer. "I always thought I would like it so I went back to graduate school and they offered sculpture, so here I am." Still, painting and drawing gave Meyer something she always preferred. "I think I just always liked the thought of shaping something with my hands," she said. Becoming a sculptor gave her that, too. "You work in clay first so you get the satisfaction of shaping and molding. Then it goes through the process — several sets of molds and then it's cast in bronze."
Corps of Discovery, Lewis and Clark Monument, Trailhead Plaza, Capitol Complex, Jefferson City, MO. (l to r) York, Meriweather Lewis, Seaman, William Clark, and George Drouillard. (photo courtesy Jason Jenkins, Rural Missouri Magazine)
And why bronze?
"It's permanent. It lasts a long time and I really like that thought, said Meyer."
Having her work carried into the future to become history fits Meyer's attraction to the past. Many of her works are large, outdoor pieces, many of a historical depiction or theme. One of the most prominent being the Lewis and Clark Monument at the Capitol Complex in Jefferson City, dedicated June 4, 2008.
Meriweather Lewis stands nine feet, six inches and his companion explorer William Clark is eight feet tall. Also depicted are York, Clark's African American slave, civilian interpreter and hunter George Drouillard and companion Seaman, a Newfoundland dog.
Meyer does historical research of her subjects before shaping images in clay. Her father, Frank Tull from Carrollton, MO, was an amateur historian and genealogist, she says. As it turned out, before receiving the commission for Lewis and Clark, Meyer had read Undaunted Courage: Meriweather Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose. "I thought it the most fascinating, incredible journey that I'd ever read about so I was prepared to delve into that and try and recreate," said Meyer.
Models of busts in Meyer's studio in Columbia, MO (photo by Patti Klinge)
Meyer's research led to pictures/drawings of Lewis and Clark. Going further in her pursuit of accuracy, she had reenactors pose for her then took photos of them. The research images and photos went up on the storyboard in the basement the home she shares with Jim in Columbia, MO. She studied the storyboard, as she always does, before beginning to create in clay.
With famous historical personalities, Meyer tries to take herself back in time mentally to when that person lived. To help the process along she reads biographies. "It gives me a sense of what kind of person I'm creating," she said.
In creating the Lewis and Clark monument, Meyer was taken especially with Drouillard, a man of Shawnee and French heritage said to be "tall and powerful," born in the Detroit rivers area. He died in 1810, presumably killed by Blackfeet while fur trapping in the upper Missouri River region.
"When I was up on a ladder working on York and Drouillard, I would work on their faces," said Meyer. "It was almost like a person was looking back at me. I kinda get the chills now."
Meyer's Lewis and Clark is the only Corps of Discovery sculpture that includes Drouillard. It is her favorite creation.
Meyer with the full-size clay model of the MFA commissioned, "Proud Past, Bright Future" before it's cast in bronze. (photo courtesy of Sabra Tull Meyer)
It can be daunting for a small woman to create such large sculptures. Choosing which foundry to cast her pieces eases the process. Meyer primarily works with two foundries: The Crucible in Norman, OK — where the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery was cast— and Eligious Bronze in Kansas City, MO.
Eligious Bronze casts both the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Honors busts and ones for the Hall of Famous Missourians at the state Capitol. Meyer created the bust of Chiefs player Curley Culp among the six she has done, and of Dale Carnegie, George Caleb Bingham, Bob Barker and Catholic Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne of famous Missourians. She was the first Missourian (Meyer was born in Kansas City.) and first woman commissioned to create busts for the Hall of Famous Missourians.
"Sabra is really good in capturing the essence of the person," said Aaron Luckeroth, owner of Eligious. "She good at capturing the overall form and super easy to work with."
Bust of Curley Culp, Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Honors (photos courtesy of Sabra Tull Meyer)
The Crucible in Oklahoma is casting Meyer's next large sculptor, a work commissioned by MFA Incorporated, a regional farm supply and marketing cooperative based in Columbia, MO. Titled "Proud Past, Bright Future," the seven-foot tall sculpture depicts a farm family. The Crucible will install the piece in Columbia in March. Meyer says that almost any sculpture outdoors has to be larger-than-life size otherwise the piece is diminished with the larger space. The Crucible uses a computer to enlarge a smaller model by scanning with a laser and then creating a 3D image. "They enlarge it six times and every mistake is magnified," said Meyer.
It's the second major project Meyer has done with The Crucible, said Mark Palmerton, owner. "She's been a great client of mine for 10 years; she's wonderful, has a lot of spirit, a special talent." No telling what will be Meyer's next project. While most of her commissions come unsolicited and she still likens her artistic life like that of a salesman. "You don't know from one year to the next what your income is going to be."
There's nothing about a brooding artist in Meyer. She seems happy, almost giddy about her life. She's very family oriented having done life-size sculptures of each of her grandchildren. She never expected to be as successful as she has become. "I had no clue. Maybe some people really plan their lives and maybe it really works out. That's not been my experience. I just do each commission that come along," Meyer said.
"It's been a wonderful life. I'm still kind of amazed."
Brice Rodgers can be contacted at email@example.com
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