by Len Lear
“I loved every aspect of working with Christopher Buonomo of 13 Degrees Studio. Chris brought my love of my favorite flower, the peony, to life in ways that brings me awe and joy every time I see it. I adore having art so unique and well crafted in my home.” — Alyse Lichtenstein, Port Richmond.
“What I find so interesting in the work that Chris produces is how it strikes me on so many levels. The more I look at his sculpture, the more I am fascinated with the intricacies and details in each and every piece that he creates.” — Dr. Timothy Montague, Queen Village.
Chris Buonomo, 46, owner and artist behind 13 Degree Studios in Mt. Airy for 11 years, is not only an acclaimed artist and sculptor but also one of Mt. Airy’s most passionate cheerleaders along with his wife, Amanda.
“It is our type of neighborhood, and we are Mt. Airy type of people!” Chris insists. “I love Mt. Airy, the diversity, culture and artistic community here. Mt Airy is what this country strives to be.
“When our house was built, they planted so many wonderful types of trees. “Unfortunately after 100 years, some of them are starting to die. Some of the wood that I use is dead wood that has fallen; others are trees that have died that I have then cut down. As wonderful as all wood is, it is the dead/decaying wood that I find so fascinating. Luckily for me, I now also have friends finding and giving me interesting pieces of wood as well.”
A native of Flanders, a town in northwest New Jersey, Chris earned a BFA in sculpture in 1996 from the University of the Arts in center city. Chris was constantly drawing and building things while growing up, and he was lucky to receive ongoing support from his parents, both educators. “I am sure that having a rebellious teenager who wanted to go off of the norm and pursue a lifetime of art was not the easiest thing for them,” Chris said, “but they always gave me 100 percent support.”
Chris, who unsurprisingly has been inspired by masters like Bernini, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Raphael, had a life-changing experience in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) in 1997-99. There Chris met a stone carver, Martin Ambrose, who took him on as a student. “He spoke no English, and I didn’t speak any Czech at that point, but he wound up one of the most influential people in my life. I have a million great stories about my time and friends in Prague. I love that city!”
Over the years most of Chris’ sculpture was in marble, but he also enjoys fabricating in steel. He has done quite a bit of decorative art in steel such as candelabras, flowers, etc. He also paints and draws brilliantly and has only been working in wood for a few years. “It all began with a tree limb that fell in my yard that was too interesting to put into my fireplace, so I put it aside and just looked at it for weeks until the idea of carving it struck me one day … The only drawbacks to sculpture are that you need to have the space to display it, and since my work is labor-intensive, it has a higher price point.”
Chris has exhibited his work at area colleges, but he has stayed away from the gallery scene because “the percentage they take is so high, especially when I have so much time invested in each piece.” His work also attracted quite a bit of attention at the recent Fall for the Arts Festival in Chestnut Hill. It was the first time he has publicly exhibited any of his wood carvings. Chris does a lot of work on commission and been effective using social media.
“My greatest artistic goal going forward,” he said, “would be to continue to show the younger generations how important art is in our lives. As technology moves forward and life becomes faster, people are losing their connection to nature and to working with their hands. As schools close down art departments and cities cut funding for art programs, it is imperative for artists to take on the mantle of keeping the arts alive. There is no society without art.”
For several years Chris worked in construction to help pay the bills. “When you know that you should be doing your art but have to work a job you do not want to do to support your family, as an artist it is incredibly frustrating. A big part of me felt as if I was dying on the inside, wasting the gift that I was given.”
In his spare time this self-professed “closet jock” loves to play hockey and race bicycles in the Wissahickon. Chris and Amanda have two sons — Blu Rembrandt Bernini Caravaggio Buonomo, 12, and Dashiell Raphael Wolfgang Strummer Buonomo, 7 — students at Our Mother of Consolation School in Chestnut Hill.
More information at www.13degreestudios.com or 215-669-7928.