Nobody embraces or welcomes bad experiences.
But here’s an odd thing about bad experiences: sometimes they produce sweet fruit.
That’s what Clay Lewis and Larry Kessie, both of Richland, WA, discovered, years after they were in fifth grade together, and one of them was wrongfully accused of misappropriating a pencil. Through efforts to punish the alleged miscreant, their teacher unfortunately exacerbated a deplorable situation into a traumatic one, the results of which stayed with both men well into their adulthood.
Seeking Closure and Finding Friendship
“Even though Clay and I attended Kennewick High School together, we had not linked up until a few years ago, through the common denominator of my wife who had worked with him and urged me to have a discussion on how that event had affected me,” Kessie remembers. “When we did link up, I found that it had negative impacts on Clay’s life as well.”
The result of this meeting was unexpected and . . . sweet. Not only did both men move toward closure of a negative experience, they opened up a novel, exciting chapter in their lives. As their newly revived friendship grew, they embarked, together, on an unforeseen direction: bronze sculpture and something called The Fosbury Flop.
The Fosbury Flop
Neither man had sculpted before. Kessie worked 35 years as an architect. Lewis’s career took him into coaching track and field, where he achieved a reputation as a guru of high jumping, most notably in the technique known as the Fosbury Flop.
This backwards leaping technique, named after Dick Fosbury, who jumped 7’4.25″ to win the Gold Medal at the 1968 Olympics, captured the attention of then 16-year-old Clay Lewis. He taught himself this new unique style of high jumping, and was soon recognized as one of the first Fosbury floppers in Washington State. As years went by, Lewis — inducted in 2009 into the Washington State Hall of Fame for coaches — found himself speaking at a number of Northwest track clinics, giving specifics on how to do the Fosbury flop. As a visual aid, he was limited to using Barbie dolls to demonstrate the technique, and for varying reasons, was frustrated with the limitations Barbie invoked. He was looking for a better visual aid that wasn’t quite so . . . distracting.
A Life-Changing Idea
That’s when Kessie had an idea, and the two men started on their journey into the world of bronze sculpture.
“I bought two human armatures, some clay, and a lot of anatomy books, and we got started on creating the coaching aid Clay needed,” Kessie remembers.
“We both had no idea where this was going, or how they were going to turn out. We each selected independent positions of the jumper so that Clay would have two independent aids.”
Kessie’s sculpture, The High Jumper, focuses on the jumper just before he leaps; Lewis’s work, You Can Fly, catches him mid-air, clearing the bar. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because that’s when the sculptures were done. Getting there took a lot of time, effort, researching, and determination.
“Our learning curve was very steep,” Kessie says.
“Correct form and musculature were very important to both of us. We continually reviewed the anatomy through pictures and anatomy books for artists and sculptures. We also used YouTube extensively.”
But . . .
“We found that the clay sculptures were developing in a manner not anticipated.”
Unsure of the direction things were going, Lewis invited a local international artist friend to give the two friends feedback on the project.
“The artist’s summary blew us away in that he compared our statues to some of the best he has seen professionally,” Kessie recalls. “He was amazed that it was our first sculptures, and there were two of them at that level.”
From Visual Aid to Bronze Sculpture
That was the encouragement they needed, and Kessie and Lewis advanced from clay prototypes to deciding to have their work cast into bronze at Valley Bronze in Joseph, OR. That move opened up a whole new dimension to their project, and the resulting art pieces encouraged them to broaden their horizons beyond a visual teaching aid — because one thing they discovered upon receiving the finished sculptures is that large bronze works, with stands and tables upon which to place them, are cumbersome to transport from coaching clinic to clinic. It’s not impossible, just difficult, and there are better alternatives:
“I photographed both sculptures and have shown them to my track athletes,” Lewis says. “What I have found is, coaches and athletes are getting inspired by just seeing a photo as well as the fact that we created something that represents what they love.
“To quote one coach, ‘They are jaw dropping.’
“They do take apart and transport okay, but we don’t want them to flop, drop and break. So for the most part I will use the photos of the works.”
And the works themselves? They are now limited edition art pieces, with a 25 run for each. Each man is planning a second sculpture, as they continue walking on the new adventure path of marketing the first ones. They hope to inspire not only athletes, but anyone with a dream and desire.
The Sweet Fruit of Fine Art
“This experience, this sculpting journey has been what ‘art’ is supposed to be, at least in my mind,” Kessie says. “Art is integral with the culture of life.”
“The sculptures represent a life changing time in one’s life who has had the experience of jumping. It is an emotional but gratifying time in our lives.
“To jump over a person’s own head is not a normal thing to do.
“We’re hoping that the sculptures will spark not only an interest in track and field, but in art and sculpture.
“It’s fun, rewarding, and therapeutic.”
Not to mention, sweet.
Contact Wenaha Gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.