Artist finds outdoor inspiration

Ott Jones, a sculptor from Bozeman, Mont., had a one-day show at the Flint RiverQuarium in Albany last week. Jones captures images of wildlife in bronze. (Nov. 21, 2012)

Ott Jones, a sculptor from Bozeman, Mont., had a one-day show at the Flint RiverQuarium in Albany last week. Jones captures images of wildlife in bronze. (Nov. 21, 2012)

ALBANY, Ga. — It was a hummingbird that forged Emily Jean McAfee's longstanding relationship with renowned sculptor Ott Jones. And it was McAfee's desire to memorialize the 38 years of marriage she shared with her late husband, Bill, that inspired Jones' latest masterpiece, "Treasure in the Pines," which was unveiled at a show at Albany's Flint RiverQuarium Thursday.

McAfee, a businesswoman and local philanthropist who has held a number of appointed and elected offices in Albany, met Jones at a 2006 art show in Charleston, S.C. She was drawn to Jones' "Resting Hummingbird" sculpture, an intricate piece that incorporates green and blue patenas into the brass design, and the pair have stayed in contact since.

"I fell in love with the hummingbird but couldn't buy it at that time," McAfee said. "Ott would check in with me every few months, and I'd always ask him if he'd sold all the copies of the sculpture. I finally bought it in January of 2011, and now I'm just taking care of it for my granddaughter, who's not yet 2.


"Claim to Fame" is a bronze depiction of English pointer created by artist Ott Jones of Bozeman, Mont.

"In talking with Ott, I kind of hatched an idea of trying to get him down here. It wouldn't have been practical for him to come this far for one show, but he's also going to take part in a show in Thomasville tomorrow (Nov. 16), so that made more sense."

Shortly after McAfee purchased the hummingbird sculpture, she commissioned Jones to create a quail sculpture in memory of her late husband, who was equal parts outdoorsman and naturalist. "Treasure in the Pines" grew from her conversations with Jones about Bill McAfee's love for the outdoors.

"He was a hunter," McAfee said of her late husband. "But he appreciated the beauty of nature, too. His favorite was the quail family, the babies following closely behind the mother. That's what Ott brought into the sculpture.

"He's making only 38 copies of the sculpture, one for each year Bill and I were marrie


Such inspiration is evident in much of Jones' artwork, whose themes connect his passion for sculpture with his other great love: the outdoors. And even though he is a Spokane, Wash., native living now in Bozeman, Mont., his work is as familiar to sons and daughters of the South as they are natives of the West.

Fishing, hunting and wildlife sculptures make up much of his portfolio, a heart-tugging piece showing a father and son on a fishing expedition fitting nicely alongside sculptures of pointing bird dogs, bears and various game birds in flight.

"My inspiration and ideas come from my life experiences," Jones said. "I've always loved to hunt and fish; some of my earliest memories are of my dad and me sitting in a duck blind or fly fishing for trout. I find inspiration everywhere I go. I was out at Emily Jean's farm yesterday, and some of the wild birds we came across gave me an idea that I may use for a piece at some time."


"Wave Runner" is a bronze sculpture of a sailfish by Ott Jones of Bozeman, Mont.

Jones explored his artistic side early, creating his first sculpture ("Mother Goose") as a 9 year old and attending his first art show as a fifth-grader. But he was an outdoors enthusiast as well, developing a passion for hunting, fishing and other endeavors during outings with his father.

Jones' initial career path took him to medical school at Washington State University, but he "didn't get the math." So after earning degrees in biology and art, he took a friend up on his offer to spend summers in Iliamna, Alaska, working as a fishing guide. He'd also decided to indulge his desire to create sculpture, so he guided during the day and sculpted at night.

The budding artist called up a well-known sculptor whose work he admired — Veryl Goodnight in Denver — and asked if he could serve an apprenticeship under her to learn more about the art. She agreed, and he worked with her for a year and a half before deciding the time had come to strike out on his own.

"I really had the best of both worlds," Jones said. "I'd spend the summers guiding in Alaska, then go and work with Veryl. A lot of the inspiration I got for my artwork came from the time I spent in Alaska."

From Goodnight, and then on his own, Jones learned the art of sculpting in bronze, a process that from concept to finished product takes as long as seven months. But Jones says the process is much more than the design, casting and details that emerge in the finished pieces he creates.

"The way I approach my art, it takes a whole lifetime to create a piece," the artist said. "It's not just one experience, it's years and years of watching, sketching and photographing the objects that I sculpt."


Once Jones is inspired, he creates in his mind — and on his sketch pad — a composition to match the mental image he has developed. He quickly roughs out a clay moquette (model) with little detail, the focus on form, space, line, mass and movement. Once he's satisfied with the rough design, he starts creating his piece using an oil-based clay.

"You have to build the armature first, the skeleton of the subject," Jones said. "I use steel pipe and wires to build the armature. It's essential that you know anatomy, that you're able to process what the musculature will do while in motion.

"And then, as I create the texture, I don't try to duplicate the animal, don't try to duplicate mother nature. I want my sculptures to be a piece of artwork, an interpretation of the animal."

Once Jones has worked the details into his pieces, he builds a pliable rubber mold around the work. The rubber is removed and, essentially, becomes the sculpture. A liquid wax is poured into the mold and is eventually refined and dipped into a liquid ceramic slurry. After 12 coats of the slurry have been applied, the mold is placed in an oven. That process burns all the wax away, leaving a reverse mold into which a 3/8-inch layer of bronze is poured.

Once the bronze sets, the ceramic shell is broken off the piece, whose various sections (depending on the size and design of the sculpture) are joined by welding.

"It's a detailed but amazing process," Jones said.

With a considerable portfolio of sculptures bearing his name, Jones travels from three to four weeks a year to art shows all over the country. He works, usually nine or 10 hours a day on two to three pieces at a time, at his home studio. He has exhibits on display at museums in South Carolina, Arizona, Vermont, Montana, Texas, Colorado, Ohio and Georgia (the Quinlan Visual Arts Museum in Gainesville).

Jones' work may be viewed at his website, www.ottjones.com.