Art & Artists
Masters of the Southwest
art & artists
November, 2013, Page 193
Photos by Garrett Cook
Artist Carol Ruff Franza works on a sculpture featuring a family of quails.
Bronze Sculptor Carol Ruff Franza Strives to Capture the Spirit and Soul of Living Things Great and Small
There is something very soothing about sculpting. Before I begin working each day, I take the clay out in the sun and get it warm. Having that warm, soft clay in my hands is so kinetic and pleasurable,” says Scottsdale artist Carol Ruff Franza. While she’s equally adept at drawing and painting, it is Franza’s work in bronze that occupies the majority of her energies and garners her the most attention.
Franza’s bronze sculptures of wild cougars, wolves, horses and more—some life-size, some smaller—as well as her bronze “threshold art,” or door knockers, are, in a word, captivating. The full-size animals, although frozen in bronze, appear to pulse with life and emotion. To capture the animals’ “life spirit,” Franza has been known to take her clay to local wildlife zoos and sculpt the clay originals of her animals in plain view of their living cousins. “For The Sentinel (a life-size cougar), I began the sculpting process using skeletal diagrams and photos that I had taken, but something was lacking. So I went to an animal sanctuary with the piece, and I was able to get close to the animals. They came right up to the chain-link fence and watched me as I worked,” recalls the artist. “I think that piece turned out better because I was in the animals’ presence when I created it.”
Franza’s door knockers take on a wide array of forms and patinas. They range from a coppery-colored Native American warrior with a feathered headdress and a drum that receives a beat when visitors come knocking, to mythological-looking gold female busts, such as The Lady of the Desert, whose tousled locks boast desert flora, to the Dia de Los Muertos piece whose stunning face is shown morphing into a sugar skull with crosses and flora. And though they initially appear destined only for the grandest of doors, the elaborate door knockers look right at home hung on a wall or nestled in a lighted niche, as evidenced by their display in the artist’s studio.
Franza was born in New Orleans into a creative family, with vaudevillians for grandparents and a father who aspired to become a painter and worked as a cartoonist while in the U.S. Army—although he eventually was coerced by his family into becoming a businessman. As a result, Franza’s creative nature was celebrated and encouraged from the very beginning. “In first grade, my teacher pulled my parents aside and told them that something special was going on with me,” says the artist as she hands over the first sculpture she ever crafted—a small round head with a surprisingly detailed face, made at the age of six. And although she also studied piano and ballet throughout her teens, exhibiting talent in both, Franza eventually decided to focus on decorative art.
It was after taking her first professional sculpting class following high school at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida, that she became hooked. Additional studies at the Atlanta School of Art, Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta, Arizona’s own Scottsdale Artist’s School, and the Loveland Academy, enabled her to further hone her craft. “I studied with many different masters to try to get the best training, people like Lincoln Fox, Bruno Lucchesi and Richard MacDonald. When you put all that together, you come out eventually with your own style,” notes the artist, in her buttery southern lilt.
She also digested the works of age-old Italian sculptors. “I love Bernini because you can see life in his work. His figures look as though he’s captured their spirit and soul. That’s the biggest thing for me. It’s more than being anatomically correct. My pieces have to look as though they have life,” the artist explains. According to gallery owner Kevin Cawley of the Joan Cawley Gallery, Franza is succeeding. “I think what makes Carol’s work so amazing and unique is her attention to detail. Her full-size animal sculptures appear so life-like. Even other animals seem to sense this. We currently have a piece by Carol titled Spirit of the Mountain, which is a life-size wolf, and on more than one occasion, dogs walking by our gallery have stopped in their tracks and sat down, as if awaiting instructions from the ultimate ‘alpha dog.’”
Collector Jim Lowell, who owns The Sentinel, says, “As a wildlife biologist, I am naturally drawn to her work, its realism, the sense of life beating within.”
When asked why she chose bronze, Franza replies, “I like that I can leave my fingerprints in the clay, and they’ll show up in the bronze. The gouges are unique expressions that record my creative journey. Also, as a mother of three, I have always preferred indestructible things. I’m pretty sure my pieces will be here well after I’m gone.”
The artist, who says ideas come to her upon awaking in the morning from dreams, plans to keep sculpting forever. “I will continue working as long as I can. What else would I do? This is what I most love.”
Photos - Clock-wise from top left: One of Carol Ruff Franza’s life-size bronze sculptures,
Spirit of the Mountain
, stands at 42.5"H x 46"W x 19"D. •
, 14.5"H x 13"W x 2.5"D •
, 24"H x 11"W x 5.5"D •
Lady of the Desert
, 22"H x 10"W x 5"D
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