Copper in the Arts

May 2011

Fluid and Organic, Sculptor Gregory Leavitt's Work Sparks the Imagination

By Paul David

Greg Leavitt with a copper Moko lizard. Gregory Leavitt with a Moko Waiwera Lizard created for the Philadelphia Flower Show

Photographer by Paul David

Sculptor Gregory Leavitt describes his work as lyrical. Working in the picturesque hills of Oley, PA, he has transformed the area surrounding his studio into a mini sculpture garden, complete with large scale copper gates, arches, and even a giant Moko Waiwera lizard to greet you at the entrance.

Leavitt, who got his start in Colorado, fell in love with the process of sculpture early on. "I met two sculptors in Aspen, Jim Selbe and Barry Petri," he says. "They were creating some magical things and I said that's for me. I just had to learn how to do it."

In 1972 he moved to Pennsylvania to study, living on a beautiful estate which was also a nursery; inspiration was everywhere. "I started doing things which were Art Nouveau and horticulturally inspired. I had featured pieces at the Philadelphia Flower Show, it has continued to evolve from there."

When asked about his influences, Leavitt has many. Throughout his tenure, he has culled inspiration from his two personal mentors, Christopher T Ray and Bernie Brenner, and the legendary sculptors David Smith and Julio Gonzales. His wife Tiana and daughter Camille are also sculptors in their own right.

The creative steps for making a piece vary according to the client, Leavitt explains.

"Certain things need to be precise fits and others more expressive," he says. "One of the most enjoyable things about sculpture is the process, and the process encompasses a tremendous amount of discovery."

Copper Waterfall Sculpture Waterfall bas relief, 2007, hand forged copper.

Photograph courtesy of Greg Leavitt

Though Leavitt's work is fluid and organic, he does study certain forms to ensure that they are botanically correct. For a Paph orchid element he first traveled to Longwood Gardens to research them.

A recent large scale project was a 17ft one-ton Moko Waiwera Lizard created for the Philadelphia Flower Show. Water flows through a concrete trough, out the copper tongue, and into a basin. The glass eyes were made by Will Dexter at Taylor Backes studio. Constructed with heavy gauge copper, Leavitt uses a similar technique to the one used on the Statue of Liberty, where copper is formed over stakes and stretched.

Unlike most large scale sculpture, all of Leavitt's work is hand forged.

"It is the antithesis of something which has been cast," adds Leavitt. "Where this is an additive process, the casting process is subtractive."

Leavitt is drawn to copper for its beauty and flexibility. "There's nothing like working with copper," he added. "It's so wonderful the way it stretches in compound ways with direction and without hysterical energy."

Upcoming projects for Greg include a 10ft high daffodil sculpture for one of the pre-eminent daffodil experts in the world, Dr. Kathryn Andersen, a recipient of the Royal Horticultural Award. He is also working on a series of garden gates for an estate in Gladwyne, PA.

Resources:

Greg Leavitt, Oley, PA, (610) 367-8867

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