Sculptor Gary Lee Price wants children to have something he did not: a happy childhood.
"I believe it should be an inalienable right that every child have a beautiful childhood," Price said. The artist captures the joyous energy of the childhood he did not have in "Celebrate the Children," an exhibition of his bronze sculptures now on display at the Dallas Arboretum through October 15.
The exhibition features more than 25 handcrafted sculptures, placed lovingly throughout the garden. Price hopes to remind adults of hopeful exuberance of childhood.
"When we're little kids, we have no limits. There are no boundaries, there are no impossibilities. We can all fly. We can all conquer anything," Price said.
As a child, Price had to conquer a lot. Price was only six years old when he witnessed his mother's death in a murder/suicide. After her death, he endured several years of abuse. Price turned to art to process his trauma. He credits his mother for introducing him to art and his first-grade teacher, Mrs. Anderson, for encouraging his talent.
"My mom and I had spent lots of time together before she passed, teaching me little art skills. And Mrs. Anderson would come around and hold up these drawings and say, 'Look at what Gary Lee Price did. Look at this!' And all of a sudden, I'm being built up and I realize I have value. I have skills and it honestly helped me get through that tragedy," Price said. "Art has been my savior."
In 1981, Price graduated from the University of Utah with a BFA in painting and drawing, but he found his favorite artistic medium while working with a sculptor for nine months.
"I fell in love with clay," Price said. "That moment, it was like coming home. After having that clay in my hands after working with a sculptor all day long, it just resonated to my soul. I'm a very tactile person."
Price and his wife have nine children and 16 grandchildren. Those children became his favorite subjects.
"To sculpt my children and our grandchildren and their friends and acquaintances in a happy delightful way, I'm reliving my childhood and it's a beautiful thing," Price said. "I believe art is cathartic. Art heals. Art helps us realize that we can do anything and that we have unlimited imaginations."
Price sculpts from life and he requires models to spend considerable time posing for him. He devised a plan to get his children to cooperate.
"I paid them," he said. "They would turn their little stopwatches on, and they would get their modeling fees and they could buy what they wanted. I'm glad that back at that time when they were little, I took the time to capture them because they are going to be around forever."
The inspiration behind his sculptures varies. Price's happy childhood memory of planting marigold seeds and nurturing those seedlings inspired "Harvest Joy Kids." After a long day of working at the studio, Price came home to find his son, Raphael, completely engrossed in creating doodles on his Etch-a-Sketch. Without asking his son to reposition, Price began working on a maquette of the sculpture called "Etch-a-Sketch." One of the life-sized versions is on display at Etch-a-Sketch headquarters in Bryan, Ohio.
Price's sculptures capture quintessential childhood experiences. "Cartwheel Kids" reflects children's exploration of space and their whimsical sense of adventure. "Windy Days" is about children's desire to fly, building kites and discovering the magic of making something soar.
Several of his sculptures represent the ideals of childhood. "Celebration" features children flying around the globe, eager to explore the world and full of lofty aspirations.
Watching an interview of a reformed white supremacist who now speaks against racism and hatred inspired "Circle of Peace." He portrays children from all walks of life playing together, enjoying each other's company and respecting their differences.
Price wants people, especially children, to interact with his sculptures. "If I could, I would put a sign on every one of them that says, 'Please touch!' because art is texture and I go out of my way to create different textures," Price said
He hopes children will discover the joy of art through his sculptures and realize how special childhood is.
"Art is so powerful, it can inspire someone for the rest of their lives," Price said. "I hope that they would see them and go, 'It's not only okay to be a kid where I am now, it's fun. And it's so cool, this artist decided to immortalize us.'"