I appreciate the background of the sculptor Sabin Howard, and the origins of the new World War I memorial, but what was most interesting to me about this great profile from The Smithsonian were all the details about how Sabin, his wife, and his team work together.

Mornings in the studio are simple. Everyone in and working by 8:30. No excuses. No woolgathering. No waiting for a bolt of inspiration to strike from the heavens. There’s a deadline for every panel and a deadline for the whole project and, art or not, the work is the work. The deadlines are on a spreadsheet in Traci’s office. She gives the sculptors 700 hours per figure. “I start hassling them at 500 hours,” she says.

While the sculptors work, it is as quiet as a library. Quieter. Madeleine does her homework at the big table in back. She’s Sabin and Traci’s daughter. She’s 17 now. When she modeled for the girl in the sculpture’s first and last panel, she was 11. During the early phases of the pandemic, everyone here, including Maddie and the dogs and every model and sculptor, was part of a quarantine pod. So the spirit here is not only that of a Renaissance-era Florentine workshop, of master and apprentice, but of extended family. It’s quiet, but not sleepy. There’s plenty of coffee and every kind of tea. Lots of music, sure, but it’s all ear buds and headphones, so what you hear might be the thin whisper of a melody as if from the bottom of a well. It is rare to hear a phone ring. People mostly walk outside to talk on the phone.

While not improvisational, the process here is adaptive. One of adjustment and counter-adjustment. Every inch of that giant sculpture will be made and remade. Although the foam core armatures, bearing the real-time facial expressions of the models from the photogrammetry shoot, came from England with a thin layer of sculpting clay already
applied, it’s the final layer, applied here, by hand, one small bead at a time—that last millimeter of plastiline—that breathes vitality into the piece. It’s where the details are. Where life is.

I love the mindset of doing the work no matter what, and craftsmanship involved. We can all think of our work in the same way as these sculptors, and the people we work with as part of our studio, if we want to. Better yet, we can actually make it that way if we want.

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