Jerry McKellar studied dentistry and practiced in Colville, Wash., until his retirement in 1994. Throughout his practice, he found time to sketch wildlife and craft detailed jewelry for family and friends. His first bronze sculpture was completed in 1987 and his repertoire, along with numerous awards and honours, has expanded since then.
Many of his sculptures are historically accurate depictions of Native American life or his interpretation of a Native American myth or story passed on through the generations. Figures, both human and animal, from the American west are also a favourite subject of McKellar’s.
Bad Hair Day is also a figurative piece but deliberately coarser. Capturing a rather threadbare burro that he and his wife observed while traveling in Greece, it is bedraggled and losing its winter coat. As burros tend to be, though, it is stalwart and staunch. Squared away and ever sturdy, McKellar’s fine rendering gives the subject dignity and pride — even with its overgrown forelock and mane draping along its spine, revealing a woolly rump and patchwork flanks. Ears cocked and head swiveled, he seems to take it all in stride, no doubt having endured carrying many loads. “What’s a little shedding of hair?” seems his repose; McKellar animates the work fittingly with exacting realism.
1. Where do you draw the inspiration for your sculptures, specifically this year’s entry?
I started sculpting wildlife, but later added figurative work. The idea for my life-size burro, Bad Hair Day, came from a trip we took to Greece where I took a photo of a miserable little burro out in the rain, losing its winter coat.
2. Which artist, past or present, has had a major impact on you as a sculptor and why?
On our trips to Europe, I have admired many sculptures by the masters, but I would say my artist peers have been the most help since I have never taken an art course. Artists as a whole are very warm, helpful people and have helped on any questions that I have had over the years.
3. Was there a defining time or moment in your life when you realized sculpting was something you wanted to do for a living?
Actually, sculpting was a hobby that got out of control. In 1994, I made the decision to retire from 25 years as a dentist to devote more time to my art career.
4. Do you always utilize the same material(s) as this year’s piece, and why is it your preferred medium?
Although I have designed pieces for steel fabrication, I like bronze sculpture for the unending three-dimensional possibilities, its permanence and the ability to use a large variety of patinas.
5. What is the importance of the arts in today’s society?
Feeding the soul is a far cry from feeding one’s family. On the other hand, sculptural installations, public murals and other forms of art can enrich people’s lives and give a heightened sense of community pride. Art can also become a tourist attraction and add a positive economic impact.
—CRESTON VALLEY PUBLIC ARTS CONNECTION SOCIETY