Jesse Nusbaum is a sculptor from Weston, Connecticut. He discovered his passion and talent for art at a young age, winning the Best Sculptor Award his junior and senior years in high school. This was coupled with a passion for sports. He attended Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvaniam, where he was able to pursue both of these passions. Jesse played on the baseball team and majored in Studio Art. Muhlenberg is known for its Centre of the Arts, which was founded by the internationally renowned sculptor, George Rickey. After graduating, Jesse set out to pursue a career in art. Since then, he has been teaching art to children in Fairfield County’s public schools and custom designing his original sculptures for clients.
Jesse incorporates realism as the driving force in his work and some of his sculptures replicate the actual size and detail of real animals. As a result, his clay pieces range from several hundred pounds to almost 600 pounds prior to being fired and hollowed out. After the clay sculpture is finished, a mold is made, and is then casted into 100% Hot Cast bronze or aluminum.
Some of Jesse’s work is on display at The University of Connecticut; where he presented a husky sculpture to both head basketball coaches, Geno Auriemma and Kevin Ollie, in recognition of their National Championships. Additionally, Jesse has been featured in numerous juried art shows in the Tri-State area at galleries such as the Carriage Barn Arts Center, New Canaan’s Art In The Windows, Stamford Art Association Gallery, and a juried website for artists called Area Artist, (AreaArtist.com.) In December 2015, his pieces were displayed at Art Basel Miami.
Tell us about yourself.
I am 26 years old and have lived in Weston, Connecticut, my entire life. I have always had a passion for art from the time I could write and draw.
My other great passion was sports. I was captain of my wrestling team and baseball team in high school and was selected First Team All-State in baseball in my senior year. I led the conference in home runs, RBIs and stolen bases.
On the art side, I won the Best Sculptor Award during my junior year and senior year in high school.
I’m also a big animal lover as is indicative of my sculptures.
How did you get started with art?
My interest in art came very naturally to me. I remember being very young and observing my classmates’ artwork and realizing even at an early age, that for whatever reason, it came a lot easier to me. I think for that reason I had more fun with it all. I felt great satisfaction in helping my other classmates along, until I got in trouble for it in High School when the teacher realized I was doing all of my friend’s work! I can laugh about it now.
What made you follow sculpting and when did you decide to make a career out of it?
Sculpting became a big part of my life during college. I took as many classes as I possibly could take. I instantly fell in love with clay. I loved the way the clay felt in my hands, and the way I was able to manipulate the structure just by using my fingers as the tools. It was unlike any other medium I had ever used, and it quickly became a favorite of mine.
I majored in Studio Art, but in the back of my mind I always knew I would enter Law School after I graduated Muhlenberg College.
My father is an attorney in Westport, Connecticut, and the “plan” was that I would be a political science major, which I was at Muhlenberg College initially, and then I would attend law school, which I did at the Charleston School of Law for a short period of time. I immediately realized my passion for art far exceeded any desire to become a lawyer. After leaving law school in 2014, I commenced my career as an artist, and an instructor.
How does your sculpting process begin and end, from an idea to a finished piece?
My sculptures begin with a three-dimensional vision, an internal blueprint that stays with me throughout the entire creative process. Although my hands are the tools to make a sculpture, most of the work comes from my mind. Once the sculpture mirrors my initial vision, I know I have successfully fulfilled my mission.
My sculptures are created in clay, initially, then fired, or baked using a large kiln. After the necessary heating process takes its course, the clay becomes extremely hard, almost like concrete. I then send my sculpture to a Foundry where they make a master silicon mold that is used to create one, or multiple wax molds. The wax mold is an exact replica of the original clay sculpture. The next step at the Foundry is called “casting,” or filling my wax replicas using 100% molten bronze or aluminum. Through the bronze or aluminum casting process, I am able to produce a limited series of each animal I sculpt.
When that is completed, the bronze or aluminum is then aged using various chemicals and an application of heavy flames. This is known as the patina process, and the end result creates a classical, timeless look. With a bit of touch-up and calculated shine, my sculptures are market ready.
What inspires you?
I tend to focus on animals as my subject for sculpting. I have always felt a very strong connection to animals all of my life. I’ve had just about every pet you could own, legally..I think. Sculpting animals as my primary subject was a very fun transition for me after learning the basics of clay Sculpting 101 in College. The different facial expressions, muscle tones, fur, and physiology I think are extremely unique and interesting from animal to animal. This gave me the opportunity to explore different methods of sculpting and detailing by using all sorts of animals as my subject.
When I come across what I like to call a “sculptor’s block,” where I need a little boost of inspiration, I hop in the car and drive to the zoo. Being surrounded by animals expands my interest and truly inspires me. Since I use realism as my driving force in sculpting, it is important to see the animals in their full dimension. Working off of reference photos is difficult, and you can’t fully appreciate all the different shapes and angles that make up the anatomy of the animal. When possible, I try and model my work off of the actual live animal, or make a trip to the Museum of Natural History. That has also been a large source of inspiration for me.
What challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome them?
Each sculpture takes me a couple of months to complete, given that everything goes smoothly. That is not always the case. I have learned the hard way that anything can happen at any time when sculpting large pieces with considerable weight.
The biggest challenges that I encounter are the spontaneous instances where my clay pieces will explode during the firing process. This process is necessary to harden the clay into a more concrete, durable structure before it is ready to be molded, then casted in bronze.
On a few instances, my sculptures have blown up in the kiln. This is the nature of the beast when firing large-scale pieces. With careful and methodical “doctoring” I was able to bring them back to life, so to speak. I start by locating all the broken shards and pieces, then mapping out how I will puzzle each piece back together. It is then that I use a material called “Magic Sculpt” which is an epoxy putty. It is one part resin, and one part hardener. When you mix the two materials together it begins to harden. I am able to shape the putty in whatever way I like. It has a similar consistency to clay, so I can mold it with my hands in a similar fashion. I am even able to add texture to the putty, but it is time sensitive and it begins to harden in about a half hour or so. After 24 hours, it becomes very concrete and is as strong and durable as the fired clay. Once I apply some paint, it is difficult to tell there was ever even a break. In my line of business, this is a lifesaver!
Who has helped you in the process of following your dream?
My mentors have been extremely helpful in my development and progression as a Sculptor. One of my mentors, a renowned sculptor originally from Nigeria is my biggest inspiration. His name is Nnamdi Okonkwo and he sculpts beautiful African stylized women and travels all over America selling his masterpieces. His positive attitude on art, sculpting, and life in general is extremely contagious. He always has a smile on his face. Even when I talk with him over the phone, you can tell he is smiling the entire conversation. His passion and energy is really admirable to me.
I have two additional mentors who run a very successful business selling fun oddities only found in nature. Glenn and Heidi Reid own www.TellMeWhereOnEarth.com where we were first introduced a few years back, since I was using their online store to purchase alligator teeth, bull horns, and cave bear teeth. We have been in close contact ever since and they have also been a major influence on me following my passion and my dream of becoming a successful artist.
My parents as well have been very supportive and instrumental in helping me along with my business. Without all of my mentor’s mental support, wisdom, and guidance I would not be where I am today. I am thankful every day that I have such great people in my life.
Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
I would like to touch upon two accomplishments that have been the most significant in my career this year. The first being my presentations of the Husky sculpture that I casted in a limited edition in aluminum. One Husky to the UConn Women’s Head Coach Geno Auriemma, and another Husky to the UConn Men’s Head Coach Kevin Ollie in honor of their NCAA National Championships. It was such privilege to meet them both.
My other accomplishment I would like to mention was my invitation to display my work at Art Basel Miami 2015. I represented Dawud Knuckles, the author of The Art Album in collaboration with Russel Simmons. I displayed my Bronze German Shepherd, Bulldog, and Rhino. Also on display were my Aluminum Husky and an Aluminum Rhino. My exhibition ran 3 days, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I met incredible people that are and will be in my life for many, many years to come. I was able to display my artwork on my first prestigious platform with people from all over the world stopping by to check them out. It was extremely humbling and a surreal experience for me.
What is it that you love about sculpting?
I thoroughly enjoy the entire process of sculpting. Although it is a long one, the end result is truly fulfilling. As I mentioned earlier, sculpting with clay and using my hands as the tools to create my work is quite simply, fun. I feel a very strong connection and a sense of comfortability when I work with clay. When I present my work to art shows, or on social media, and I receive praise from my audience, the feeling is indescribable.
When I first started out, it was very surreal to see my sculptures displayed at these Juried art galleries. On a few occasions, I stood close enough to my artwork to eavesdrop on some of the comments that people would make, many of which were very flattering. It was a pretty exhilarating feeling. This was very important for me to witness for myself. It reinforced the notion that I was doing something positive, something I truly enjoyed, and it became clear I could truly make a living from this passion of mine.
What message are you trying to share with your work?
Taking an idea or a particular subject and recreating it in your own way, from your own mind, is what art is all about. I want my sculptures to embody true realism and I want to give my viewers a close experience to a seemingly real face-to-face encounter with each animal.
Whether it pleases a particular audience or not, aesthetics in artwork is completely bias. This does not determine whether or not your work is successful. If your creation evokes any sort of emotion from its viewers, I feel that defines how successful your work is.
What have you learned in the process of following your dream?
Nothing is instant. Patience is very important. As long as you are willing to put in the time, hard work, and stay focused, opportunities will arise. Passion is what separates you from the rest.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
In 5 years I see myself continuing on this journey. I see myself creating many more sculptures and hopefully establishing myself as a distinguished sculptor in my particular field of work, as well as the greater “art world.” I love what I do, and I want to pursue this passion of mine until the use of my hands cease to keep up with my mind and creativity. I envision myself not only progressing as an artist, but also continue in mentoring likeminded individuals who want to pursue a similar path.
Making it in the art world is not a simple task, it’s no secret there is a stigma that comes with being an artist. I’d like to help bring the importance of art and creativity back into this world, and break the “molded” stereotypes that are that of an emerging artist, following their passion.
-Featured at the Martin Art Gallery in Pennsylvania
-Featured at Art in the Windows Gallery Connecticut (Juried)
-Twice featured at The Carriage Barn Art Gallery Connecticut (both Juried)
-Featured at SAA Stamford Art Association Gallery (Juried)
-Featured on AreaArtist.com (Juried website)
-Featured at Art Basel Miami in 2015