My Reason for Being Here
You may have heard of local sculptor Duncan Lewis: His work graces many places in Winston-Salem and beyond. Look for it at Innovation Quarter, The Enrichment Center, Summit School, and Senior Services, Inc.—to name just a few locations.
This grant-winning artist is also a gallery-show veteran who has exhibited in venues from the Sawtooth School for Visual Art, Diggs Gallery, and Penland School of Crafts to New York City’s Lincoln Center. He takes on commissions and has pieces in private collections as well.
“I’m primarily a sculptor, but I also do repairs and some functional things, mostly out of metal,” Duncan says. He works in wood, stone, masonry, plastics, and plaster, too, and he refers to his shop as “a sculpture and services studio.”
An artist all his life, he adds, “When I’m making things—that’s when I feel like I know what I’m doing here on the planet. I feel like it’s my reason for being here.”
A Handful of Significant Influences
Duncan got an early art start, through school. “I still have a clay sculpture I made in kindergarten,” he says. “Mom kept it. It’s of a camel—and it looks like a camel. It’s not half bad.” He also found early inspiration close to home: His grandfather was a sculptor.
He cites several other formative influences: studying anthropology in college, taking classes at Penland, being a studio assistant to a German sculptor in Mexico, getting formal figurative training in New York City, and travel.
“The study of world cultures became a part of my visual landscape,” says Duncan of majoring in anthropology. Penland is where he got into metalwork, and assisting a professional sculptor taught him the value of complete dedication to one’s art. His time at the New York Studio School gave him an inside look at how the art world works. Duncan’s travels have also taken him to Japan, Jerusalem, and parts of western Europe—each journey an inspiration.
He’s built a deep and varied set of sculpture skills on the foundation of these experiences. And from welding and carving to rubber mold-making and metal casting, Duncan has not only done it all, he’s taught it all.
Helping Other Artists Make Their Art
Teaching is an important part of being a maker for Duncan. He currently teaches at Sawtooth but has a résumé full of teaching experience. “The process of making is its own reward, but the important thing is being engaged in the community,” he says. “That’s why teaching is a nice part of it.”
It’s also a way he sees himself participating in MIXXER. He has things he hopes to learn—and things to offer in return. “I love helping other artists make their art,” he says, adding, “I would be very excited to be a part of it and would look at trying to barter and exchange to fill in deficits in my skill set, such as 3-D imaging and other digital techniques.”
More About Duncan
Where do you do your work?
I have a shop on some family property, and I’m allowed to make a mess out there. I’m set up for metalworking, including a small foundry for pouring bronze and aluminum. I also have a shed near my house for woodworking. I keep the woodwork separate from the metalwork.
About seven years ago, I converted the foundry partially to biodiesel to be more environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient. I also have a goal of eventually teaching a class on casting metal with a reduced carbon footprint, which would include using recycled scrap metal, reusable mold material, biodiesel fuel, and a more environmentally friendly pattern material.
Why do you love working in metal?
Because of its strength, looks, and impermeability to weather. I’m also drawn to “hard” materials. I enjoy a good challenge, so materials such as metal, stone, and wood that demand full-on engagement appeal to me.
What skills have served you best as a maker?
I love to weld, and I’m good at it. That has opened a lot of doors—fixing somebody’s trailer or putting together a large sculpture or repairing somebody’s family heirloom.
Do you have any studio routines that are essential to your work?
Before I start a project, I gather all the materials, tools, and equipment I’ll need. I try to be ready to go full tilt without having to run off and get something, which interrupts the flow of the process.
What maker skills would you like to learn?
I’m interested in metal milling and metal turning on a metal lathe. I want to make some Tibetan singing bowls—maybe by casting them, but I’m also wanting to turn them on a lathe.
If you could say one thing to someone who wants to get into making, what would it be?
Be careful—you might just get bit by the bug. And then that’s it! You’re just going to start figuring out how to arrange your life so that you can be in the studio or be in a school studio or someone else’s studio.
How has being a maker affected other parts of your life?
I haven’t been pushing for fame and fortune; I’ve been happier with a more modest lifestyle. I get to do what I really want to do, and I’m still doing it many years later.
Photos courtesy of Duncan Lewis.