by Rita Charleston
Growing up, Christopher Ward says his early days were surrounded by unlimited inspiration. The son of an oil company executive, Ward was raised in Teheran, Iran, for the first 14 years of his life. One of four boys, he says during the summer his family got to travel around Europe. “My mother would often drop us off at one of the fine museums for the day, which was a great way for her to keep her sanity, I suppose.”
As a result, Ward was able to visit museums like the Museo del Prado in Madrid, the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris. “I loved being in those museums and tended to gravitate toward the sculptures I saw. Just the idea that a museum had this collection of all that is cultural in the world, the finest that humans could produce, was a revelation to me. And rather than being bored and thinking they all looked the same, I’d try to see how the sculptures could all be made differently.”
Eventually moving back to the U.S., Ward attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he received his B.A. in art history and fine arts, but says his first career choice was to become a doctor. “Originally I was a pre-med student and wanted to train as a surgeon. I thought sculpting would be a good way for me to learn to control the scalpel, until I realized I was having much more fun sculpting than studying medicine. That’s when I made the switch to art.”
After college, Ward moved to California to get his master’s degree in fine arts from California State University, going from there to New York to the Sculpture Center for courses in advanced bronze casting, and finally to Philadelphia to attend the University of the Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for additional classes in bronze casting.
More than two decades ago, Ward settled in Chestnut Hill with his wife, Julia Myer, a native of Chestnut Hill, and their two sons, who later both became lifers at Chestnut Hill Academy. (Dylan is now a senior at Princeton, and Laurenson is a sophomore at Haverford.) To make ends meet, Chris has worked as a pharmaceutical representative because “art is not as highly thought of in our country, as it is in others. I think the problem in our society is if you are in a corporate setting and someone says this guy is a great golfer, people tend to be impressed. But if you say this person is a really great artist, people might raise an eyebrow and move on.
“That’s because artists are not thought of as social creatures. They’re often solitary and kind of quirky. There’s a mental attitude where people think of the starving artist, the crazy artist. So if you spend 10 or 12 hours a week playing golf, that’s OK, but if you spend the same amount of time as an artist, forget it.”
However, Ward has refused to “forget it,” and not only continues to live a kind of double life, but he continues to work passionately at producing his bronze pieces. Some of his collections are in Paris, San Francisco and here at home. The winner of several awards, the 56-year-old Ward enjoys doing busts, which he calls portraits, and wouldn’t mind at all if his work was compared to that of Auguste Rodin.
“Working in bronze is very time consuming and very expensive,” he explained. “Ultimately, bronze works out to be $100 an inch, so if you’re getting something done out of this material that is 25 inches high, that works out to $2500 for the piece. And it takes me about six months to a year to get a piece done.” His work has been exhibited at the Woodmere Museum, Artist House Gallery, Gross McCleaf galleries, and most recently at the Cosmopolitan Club in center city, as well as at several galleries in New York.
Working his creations to become as life-like as possible, Ward said his work is not a whimsical interpretation of his subject. “I love going through the whole process and seeing the finished product. Getting an award is nice, and so is the recognition that comes along with it. But for me, it’s all about the work. I love what I do.”
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