Title: Sculptor | Age: 50
When did you first discover your passion for art and sculpting?
I was really little. My parents were divorced and when I was six years old I got to spend a summer with my father in California. He took me to Disneyland, and I was amazed—but not for the reason most kids are. I just wanted to know how they built it. I went on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I knew they weren’t real people, but they looked like real people. Before we left the park, my dad bought me a magazine and it had pictures of the original Disneyland Imagineers as they were sculpting. Then, he gave me $20 for allowance, and I went to the hobby store and bought every piece of clay they had. I spent the rest of the summer sculpting all of the characters in that magazine. I was only six years old, but I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
Once you graduated from high school, did you receive any formal training?
I was mostly self taught. I had my own little mask business—making rubber Halloween masks and dentures. And then Dick Smith, who was the undisputed master or “Godfather” of special effects makeup, started a mail order course. I sent him a couple of pictures of my work and within three days I got a letter back that said, “Your work is fantastic. You can take my course at any time.” I was about 18 or 19. That was the only kind of training I had.
Where did your career take you next?
In my 20s, I moved to Colorado to work for this huge mask and prop company. I worked for them for a year and I absolutely hated it because I had to run everything by a committee. It got so tedious. I didn’t know at the time I moved… but the town I lived in, Loveland, had the highest rate of sculptors per capita than anywhere in the world. The world’s best bronze foundries were right there in town. So I left the mask company and started working at a foundry creating huge, monumental pieces. I stayed there for three years, then started working as a freelance sculptor for independent projects. I would get hired by these independent companies and I would sculpt something, then they would put their name on it. People don’t realize this but there are so many “sculptors” out there who haven’t sculpted anything in their lives. For years, I made really good money doing that.
Did you encounter any major setbacks?
When I worked for a company in Connecticut I got really sick on the job with toxic chemical overload. Doctors told me I would never sculpt like I used to ever again. But while I was recovering and couldn’t get out of bed, I worked on little pieces that ended up becoming some of my best sellers.
What did that teach you?
After all of that, I said I would never work for anyone else. So I started taking part in fine art shows and worked my way up to better shows all while learning how to market and brand myself. And the rule for me now is I won’t create something I wouldn’t have in my own house. There is no amount of money that’s enough… because it’s like selling a part of your soul.
You first came to Lynchburg in 2010 to visit a friend. What made you stay?
It took only two days for me to fall in love with the city. First, the historic district—I think every artist is a secret architecture nut. I just fell in love with the whole design of the town and architecture. And I started meeting so many nice people. Everybody was just so nice. I love it here.
Now you’re a key player in the community and one project in particular has you very busy.
Oh yeah—the M.W. Thornhill statue on the Fifth Street roundabout. It will be nine feet tall in bronze. Thornhill was the first African American mayor back in the 90s, and he did so many good things in this town…he stirred stuff up and worked hard for equal rights.
How are you making it look like him?
Multiple photos. The News & Advance was a huge lifesaver for me. They let me go through their archives and scan tons of photos of him. It’s a really challenging project because once I put it out there…this will be how Mr. Thornhill will be remembered by future generations —it’s a lot of pressure. And his family has been a part of the process.
You’re also doing some work for the owners of the Villa Maria?
They have commissioned me for a dream project to create some sculptures they want. I came up with a series of designs and they picked one and said, “Let’s start with that one.” They are great to work with. They don’t put any pressure on me and just let me do my thing.
So—what’s next for you?
I would like to have a facility where I could have interns and train them in this type of work. Ideally, I can foresee teaching the particular skill set I’ve learned over the last 35 years to someone who is interested in the process so that I can eventually step back a little bit from the production aspects and be able to focus more on just creating the sculptures. I’m doing almost all of it at the moment and it gets a little overwhelming at times. I’d love to find the time to get back to oil painting too; I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it.
What’s your vision for Lynchburg’s arts community moving forward?
I’d love to help turn Lynchburg into a sculpture mecca, with a sculpture garden located somewhere in town. I’ve seen them in a few places that I’ve lived and they seem to be a popular tourist destination. If you build it, they will come.
How can people get in touch with you?
Faraoni Studios on Facebook
Ken Faraoni on Instagram