Valerie Stevens, 88, of Solvang began doing her art seriously in her mid-40s, after a foundry visit in Oregon
Sculptor, Valerie Stevens, is 88 years old and still has her nimble fingers fashioning clay. She began sculpting seriously in her mid-40s. On a trip to Oregon, she was unexpectedly inspired to begin sculpting and she has not stopped since.
“On a road trip to Oregon with my husband, my stepson offered to give us a tour of his foundry in Joseph, Oregon,” said Stevens. “When I saw all the people busy working with clay figures that would then be turned into bronze, my fingers began to itch and I announced that I wanted some of that clay. That started me on a voyage of sculpting.
“I like the challenge of the work,” she said. “God gave me this particular talent and the challenge is to do my best and make the piece I’m working on as perfect as possible.”
It takes Stevens several months to finish a piece as she says she has to be “in the mood”, but she doesn’t like having things hanging around on her desk, so she works at getting things done in a timely fashion.
She said she has tried potting, but her hands weren’t strong enough and the finished product was nothing but a round bowl — not particularly inspiring.
“When I went to that foundry it was the answer to that long-time desire I had: sculpting the human figure,” she continued. “It came pretty easily to me and I surprised myself. If I made a mistake, I could easily correct it as the clay I use is oil-based. Regular clay is water-based, so it dries out rapidly. Oil-based clay remains pliable, so making corrections, even days later, is easy.”
Stevens very first venture into sculpting came quite unexpectedly, when she was in high school in 1952.
“My father owned a jewelry store in Parkridge, Illinois. The Towle Sterling Company was sponsoring a contest for the Best Window Display featuring their new sterling silver flatware pattern called ‘Southwind,’” Stevens recalled. “I asked my father if he would like me to make a sculpture of a woman similar to the one on their brochure. He readily agreed, even though I had never done any sculpting before. Unfortunately, I had used a water-based clay and it cracked in numerous places as it dried. Because I couldn’t finish it due to all the cracks, my Dad sent them a photo of my first attempt at sculpting and they sent me a consolation prize — a sterling silver sugar spoon, which I still have.”
Stevens is a woman of many talents: Not only does she sculpt, but she paints and is a published author.
“I never knew I could write, but people would come to me asking for guidance in difficult life situations,” she explained. “I thought, there are all these 12-step programs, but why isn’t there something in the Christian churches that could help those struggling souls. I was going to Montecito Presbyterian Church at the time, and there were several 12-step programs but none with a Christian basis. So, I wrote one. I just think those things are God-inspired. My sister was the writer in the family and I was the oldest, so I thought if I was inspired by the Lord to do something that could be used in Christian churches to help people, then I should do it. And they picked it up.”
Her book, “12 Keys to Freedom in Christ — A program of spiritual growth and discovery that promises New Hope for Troubled Lives” has been used by many support groups in the Santa Barbara area.
Stevens has been living at the Atterdag Village for the past year and she says she enjoys it very much. In one tiny room, Stevens has managed to create something like a tiny house, with one large desk for her computer, a living-room/bedroom area and table, an art studio that doubles as a kitchen table, a library, a tiny seating area along with and a small kitchenette, and a bathroom roughly the size of half of her living space. Her sculptures adorn the tables and walls.
“It’s like a tiny house with maid service and it handles all my needs,” she said.
Presently, Stevens is working on a sculpture of her middle daughter, Lynn. She saw a sketch of a woman in a particular pose, which she liked, and took a picture of her daughter in that pose.
“This piece is mostly finished except for the legs and the shoes,” she said. “I’ve made various pieces for family members over the years.”
She plans on taking the finished clay piece to a foundry in Burbank where it will be made into a bronze sculpture.
“It takes about a week until I can get it back,” she said.
Recently, Stevens has been inspired by a photo of a ballerina for her next project.
Stevens continues to be an inspiration herself at 88 years of age and says she sculpts for her own pleasure and wishes that more people would follow their dreams and not be afraid to give them a try.
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