Dan Dutton has sculpted quite a name for himself as an artist over the years.
He's created visual spectacles in paintings. He's written operas.
Now, it's time for him and partner-in-arts Jesse Rivera to create something new.
The two recently started the Rivera-Dutton Sculpture Studio in northern Pulaski County. It's a place to combine the talents of the two men who share a similar vision.
"Jesse and I met because I was giving art lessons to his nephew," said Dutton. "He had recently moved here from Chicago and was working in industrial metal fabrication. I asked him if he would like to try making a sculpture and the results were so good, and sold so quickly, that we decided to start a sculpture studio to make more."
For the first five years of this partnership, the two worked in what Dutton described as "a very small workshop," originally made as a iron forge.
"During that time we began planning a new studio specifically designed for the work we wanted to do, and when the opportunity came to build it, we did," said Dutton.
The Rivera-Dutton Sculpture studio is located at 1944 Campground Road. In it, the artists sculpt in steel, bronze, stone, clay and other mediums.
"Much of the work we do is commissioned, but we do have work for sale at the studio," said Dutton. "The space will also be used at times for exhibits and performance."
Visits are by appointment, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. The two began working in the new studio last week, and have had a few visitors and buyers since then, but it won't officially be open until Nov. 23. They plan to have shows and events in the space in the coming year.
"The sculpture we make is very collaborative," said Dutton. "We both have input on the design and how it will be put together. Often I draw out the shapes for the sculptures and Jesse cuts and welds the pieces together, but sometimes we begin working directly with the metal with an idea in mind."
Every sculpture is approached differently, said Dutton, but then again, both artists come from starkly differing backgrounds.
"Jesse is from a very urban background and I'm from a very rural background, and we're from different generations, different cultures," said Dutton, "but our artistic visions are very complimentary and we work easily with each other."
"Jesse came to sculpture from an industrial background -- fabricating various things in factory settings. And he customized cars as well," added Dutton. "I think it has been an easy transition for him, and it has become a passion."
Dutton, meanwhile, has been making art of one sort or another since he was a child, and began selling his work in his early teens.
"That has gone well for me and I've never done anything else," he said. "Art is my life. I've always made sculpture, but I think having an artistic collaborator has led me to focus on it more than I might have otherwise."
Dutton has made a name for himself, coming from a humble rural origin in Caney Fork, where his family has lived since the 1800s. His parents, Joe and Cebah Dutton, were traditional ballad singers and storytellers, and Dutton said he "learned more from them than anyone," and that includes a long list of accomplished artistic mentors. Dutton never went to art school, but studied a lot, and started traveling in his teens, visiting the desert southwest and spent time at Pueblos and Navajo reservations.. In the early '80s, he went to Paris and spent time studying art in the museums in France and Italy., and in the '90s went to Japan, England and Ireland.
The first large scale show he did was at the Berea College Art Museum in the '80s and had several shows at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, and a show in the Congressional Rotunda in DC. In 1989, he composed his first opera, "The Stone Man," commissioned by Kentucky Opera. It was the first opera composed and performed in Kentucky and and premiered at the Ky. Center for the Arts for seven performances, then toured the state. In the '90s, Dutton composed, designed and directed a cycle of four operas, "The Secret Commonwealth," created in collaboration with Kentucky Educational Television who filmed and broadcast them.
"I wrote teacher's guides for the operas that were used, and are still used, in elementary and high schools across the state," he said.
Visual arts also captured Dutton's imagination. "Ballads of the Barefoot Mind," a series of 12 large and 36 smaller paintings based on traditional ballads, was commissioned by 21C Museum in Louisville. In 2006, he composed a sculpture and dance performance, "The Faun," performed at Transylvania College and at 21C Museum.
"I think that my work is very well known here, for a community of this size," said Dutton. "A lot of people here followed my work when it could only be seen in the newspapers or on television, and folks come up to me all the time to tell me that they enjoy seeing it."
Rivera-Dutton Sculpture Studio will allow the artists to be able to share more of what we do with the public. The two work mainly in welded steel, but have done projects with bronze, stone, and ceramics as well, and have created pieces that involve landscape design, working with plants, stones, and other natural objects.
Their work is visible not just here in Pulaski County -- perhaps most notably the colorful animal stacking of the Bremen Town Musicians piece in front of the Pulaski County Public Library, based on the Grimm Brothers folk tale, the bronze ballplayer at the Ward Correll Sports Complex Little League fields, or the bust of Count Pulaski at the judicial center -- but in other communities as well.
"We have a giant Blue Cat that the city of Lexington bought for the Hope Center on Versailles Road," said Dutton. "The Cincinnati Art Museum has a piece -- there are sculptures scattered around in several surrounding states, and others not so close."
Obviously a lot of work goes into sculpting any piece, but the most challenging aspect of sculpting is handling so many jobs, noted Dutton.
"We not only design and make the sculptures, but we also source all of the materials and do all of the marketing of our work," he said. "We travel quite a bit with our work -- this year we've done projects in Florida, Michigan and Ohio, and that adds to the challenge.
Dutton said he's hoping that the new studio will make it possible for more people to experience what they do. For now, they have visitors by appointment, mostly people who want to commission or purchase a sculpture, but eventually plan to have a 50-acre sculpture park on the land surrounding the studio that will be open to the public.
After all, a sculpture is something to be seen -- and Dutton wants to be able to share his and Rivera's work with all the people who might be enriched by it.
"I think the most rewarding aspect of making sculpture, beyond the challenges of getting the materials transformed into the finished work, is the feedback we get from people who live with the sculptures we have made," said Dutton. "When someone tells you, with real and sincere gratitude, how your artwork has affected their life in a positive way -- how much they enjoy experiencing it every day, and how it has gradually become even more meaningful to them than it was when they first saw it -- that is a very gratifying feeling."