Drive around Tampa or stroll along the Riverwalk and you see statues and busts of Tampa luminaries, living and dead – Tampa cigar industry founder Vicente Martinez-Ybor, historian Tony Pizzo, the late La Gaceta editor Roland Manteiga and dozens more.
They were created by sculptor Steve Dickey, one of those rare artists who makes his entire living from his art. He charges about $70,000 for a life-size statue but notes that the foundry that casts it into bronze gets a lot of that money. Dickey, 70, whose studio was in downtown
Tampa, moved to bucolic Bell, Florida five years ago. He has a house on the Suwanee River and transformed the barn into a studio. He talked with the Tampa Bay Times about his work.
How many statues or busts of notables in Tampa have you done?
I did the Riverwalk, which is 30 busts alone. And then there’s probably another … I’d say 20 or so pieces.
What are your favorite sculptures of Tampa notables?
It’s hard to (choose) a favorite, but the ones I can look back at and enjoy, of course, is a baseball player, Al Lopez. That was one of the very first ones I did … and I like that one because it allowed me to put a lot of movement into it. It was him catching the foul ball, so it gave it some movement and emotion. Recently, I like the (firefighter) memorial, that’s at the fire station in downtown Tampa.
Why do you like that one?
Because there’s a sense of emotion there, it’s introspective. And I felt I was able to show that. I was kind of happy how that particular one turned out ... also Dave Andreychuk holding up the Stanley Cup. That’s one of my all-time favorites. I had fun doing that because I got to talk to him, and I got to … to visit the (Stanley Cup) and shoot a lot of pictures. And that again shows some emotion.
You mentioned in a past interview that you research your subjects and meet the ones that are living. What is the benefit of that?
It gives you a sense of the person, who that individual was or is, and it allows you to, with a little bit of insight and empathy … to try to get that feeling into the piece.
Do you consciously focus on expressing your feelings in the piece or does it happen naturally because you have researched or met the subject?
You are thinking about it while you do the work, but that has an effect on the movements and the whole thought process about how the piece should be displayed, and I think it starts to become natural. You’re trying not just to reproduce a direct image, but … that idea of what the person was like.
If it’s possible, do you have the subject pose for you while you sculpt?
If someone’s available, I have had them come over on a period or two to make adjustments and talk to them and work at the same time. And that’s very helpful, because you’re going to see things in the three dimensions that you can’t pull off just a good picture. To the best of my ability I shoot 360 degrees around somebody and over them if I’m going to do a full figure.
You said one time that you’re are a little nervous at unveilings of portrait sculptures.
And that’s exactly true, and I’m more than a little bit nervous. Even though these have been approved through the different processes, when it’s full-size and in bronze and it’s unveiled, you don’t know how others are going to think of it or see it. We all see people just a little bit differently, and it is a little nerve-wracking to wait to get another reaction from individuals.
Is it fun when you’re working on a statue, or is it stressful?
It runs between both. There are times when it’s just a lot of fun. I’m relaxed, I’m in my studio, and then the stress starts coming toward the end, when corrections are needing to be made and you’re getting the input and you’re trying to make the changes that will make the piece more of how someone expects to see it and will see it.
How many hours a day do you work?
I’d say four or five hours a day on average, but when it gets into a crunch as I’m coming to the end of a contract. And we could be talking a month or more, then it can extend to 10, 12 hours a day, all hours.
Do you plan to retire?
No … I don’t know that artists retire. I think we just kind of fall over at some point in time.