Page 29 - The Hunt - Spring/Summer 2023
P. 29

After almost 50 years in the studio, J. Clayton Bright continues to evolve as a sculptor and painter.
“After I sold that first sculpture of a cow, I said I’d give myself three to five years to see if I could make a
living at it.”
That was almost 50 years ago, and right now
J. Clayton Bright is in his spacious studio, sitting on a low stool that’s just the right height for milking his real-life model.
“Fortunately, I’ve never had to have a job since,” he says.
If you interview enough artists, especially older male painters and
sculptors, you’ll hear variations of Bright’s story—how there was a push-comes-to-shove personal reckoning in the struggling artist’s life when he vows to get a straight job to support the wife and kids if he doesn’t make it as an artist. What makes Bright’s story different is the life he’d already led by the time a real-life cow sauntered into his life in his early 30s. Sculpting that cow was the first serious piece of art he’d ever attempted. Before he had his epiphany in the pasture, he’d done just about everything but think about being an artist. Importantly, Bright wasn’t yet married with children at the time, so there was only a self-imposed pressure to sell more bronze cows.
Not surprisingly, this tale of the cow is one Bright has told more than a few times in his career, a story as polished as the patina on one of his bronzes. Now is a good time for Bright as we chat bathed in north light in his studio along rural Route 82 between Unionville and the “Blow Horn” stop sign. At 76, he looks amazingly trim and fit in his tan chinos, blue work shirt and lace-up sneakers. Bleached with age, his hair is combed straight back.
After a slow start in getting there, most of the adult life of J. Clayton Bright (the J. stands for “John”) has been lived as a successful sculptor and painter, one who’s well-recognized regionally and somewhat nationally. “I was never any good at school,” the Philadelphia native recalls sheepishly. “It took me eight or so summers and 12 winters to graduate.”
The third of 10 children, Bright decided against college. In 1964, he joined the Army and trained as a paratrooper. “I figured it was easier to jump than to walk,” Bright quips.
A year later, the United States sent the first troops into Vietnam, and Bright found himself part of a six-man reconnaissance team. “You do everything you can not to engage with anyone,” he says.
Bright wasn’t wounded in action, though he did catch malaria. “The experience was good for me,” he says. “As the third child, I’d never
had to break ground. [After Vietnam,] I ended up with a strong sense of responsibility. It changed my perspective on life, and I became less concerned about career prospects.”
After getting a commercial pilot’s license, he headed back to the Far East. “I wanted to become a bush pilot,” he says. “Trouble was, so did a lot of other young men.”
Most of the flying gigs went to local Australians, so Bright worked as a heavy equipment operator cleaning buildings. He spent some time in New Zealand, bought a motorcycle and toured eastern Australia. It was time
to go home, but Bright took his time doing so. “I flew to Singapore and hitchhiked my way to London,” he says, a journey that took four months.
“There were currents of people doing the same, flowing both ways.” 27

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