Sculptor in Wood and Bronze
1916 - 1985
|The God he believed in gave Willard Stone a superb gift--a mind
and a soul and hands that could transform a block of wood into rhythm and
movement and poetry.
Stone, the wood sculptor, is a study of humility, quiet warmth and penetrating vision. He was a man close to the soil. He lived on a rocky hillside farm east of Locust Grove, Oklahoma. In this rural setting, surrounded by children and animals, he found his inspiration.
As a boy, Stone knew the harshness of the land as well as its beauty. His father died when he was an infant, and his mother raised the family, working as a sharecropper in the cotton fields near Oktaha, Oklahoma.
An accident (a dynamite cap explosion) almost destroyed his zeal for living at the age of thirteen. His keen interest in drawing was thwarted by the loss of portions of his right thumb and two fingers, and he withdrew from school. His natural ability found a new outlet--that of modeling in clay the things he knew.
Willard always relished rainy days, for as a boy, they provided his only respite from the cotton fields. Walking home, he could scoop up damp red clay from the banks and carry it home to mold into animals and things of nature with which he was familiar.
|Friends aware of this encouraged him, as a
teenager, to enter his work in the Muskogee State Fair. His models
drew the attention of Grant Foreman, the dean of Oklahoma
historians. Foreman was impressed with the talent of this
reserved, part-Cherokee boy, and he encouraged him to seek formal
Stone entered Bacone Indian College in 1936. Acee Blue Eagle and Woody Crumbo began guiding him along the path of an artist. They soon discovered that he already knew much of what they had to teach him, so they made a studio for him by cleaning out a storage closet. Here he bagan to develop his own style of sculpting. He would search for the exact piece of wood which would portray with color, grain, and mass, the image he strove to produce. As he worked with wood, his fascination with the medium grew.
After leaving college, where he won national recognition, Stone discovered that a knife and chisel earned little money for food for himself and his bride. For several years he worked at common jobs to support his growing family.
In the 1940's oil patron and art collector, Thomas Gilcrease, gave him an opportunity to strive for perfection and feed his family at the same time. A three-year grant as an artist in residence at the Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art made it possible. Today, the Institute owns a large collection of his work, principally from that period.
During his tenure at Gilcrease, an art critic wrote; "This young artist shows promise of becoming the finest wood sculptor in the United States...any subject seems to lend itself to his individual effulgent style."
Upon leaving Gilcrease, Stone again found it difficult to support his large family with "critic's praises." Some people sought him out to buy his carvings, but he still found it necessary to work---first as a pattern maker with an iron firm and later as a die finisher with an aircraft firm in Tulsa.
Experts, slowly, one by one, across the country began to "discover" this "rare genius" that resided in an unknown community somewhere in Oklahoma. Galleries began to respond, and individuals became more insistent in their demands for his work.
By 1961, it reached the point where he could resign his regular job and devote his hours to his art.
|His sculpture became so popular with collectors and he had such
a backlog of commissioned pieces, that he found it difficult to retain enough
pieces to honor exhibit requests.
This schedule continued until his death from a heart attack on March 5, 1985.
Willard Stone was a Non-Government Enrolled Descendant Cherokee American. Although he was of mixed heritage, his Cherokee heritage was most important to him and he raised his children to be proud of this heritage. He sought to preserve this through his art.
The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma adopted Stone's "Exodus" sculpture as that Nation's logo.
He Would always find time to represent the Cherokee nation at local, state and national functions. He was always encouraging young artists -- of all nationalities -- to be all they could be.
Stone is buried in the Stone Family Cemetery at his home in Locust Grove, Oklahoma. Also located on this farm is the "Willard Stone Museum," which houses the largest collection of his works.
Contact the Willard Stone Museum at
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