Born and raised in Bozeman, Dennis Harrington began his quest to embody the majesty of the West with Guardian Spirit, a monumental sculpture of Montana’s own native grizzly bear, permanently on display at Bozeman’s Gallatin Field Airport, and other Montana wildlife bronze sculptures. Then Harrington’s focus shifted to the cowgirl image in 1999 and depicting the iconic women of the West in modern-day form. Today Harrington is one of our most significant figurative bronze sculptors.
So Dennis, it’s Friday. What kind of week have you had?
It has been a pretty productive week. A lot of the time my work is dependent on finding models, and this week I was able to schedule time with the model I am working with, so I got a good amount of work done on one of my new pieces.
Does your workday follow any particular pattern?
I try to get into the studio around 10 o’clock every morning. The neat thing is my studio is located in my art gallery, Planet Bronze, so all day long I can take breaks from working and talk to people who have come into the gallery to see the art we have. I think it is really exciting for the clients to actually get to meet me and form a friendship. That doesn’t always happen when you walk into a gallery and buy a piece of art. Because of this every workday is slightly different then the next.
What are you working on now?
I have a few pieces started at the moment; they are figural sculptures that will become additions to my cowgirl series. Once I find a model that inspires me I really dive into and commit to a piece.
What drives your artistic process? What I mean is how and why do you choose subjects, and how does the choice of subjects relate to your growth as a sculptor?
My earlier figural work was extremely driven by my different emotional states, and the pieces I created represented those emotions. (for example, Confined and Dante) However, my work now has strayed away from portraying my emotions and is now focused more on creating an emotional response in others. As far as my wildlife art, in the earlier years I was interested in creating pieces that were based on subjects and animals that were a world away; now my animals are the ones that can be found in our backyard here in Bozeman, MT, for example, moose, bears, and chipmunks.
You mention two influential people in your life, one from the 17th century, and one from the 21st. Tell me about Gianlorenzo Bernini and Martine Vaugel. What do they mean to your life and art?
Bernini is important to my work and me because I feel a connection with him. We are both trying to portray the female form softly and delicately through an extremely hard medium. What Bernini was able to do with stone I hope to be able to do with bronze. Martine Vaugel is my mentor. I have so much respect for her both as an artist, as an educator, and close friend. She is a world-class artist; however, she always finds time to talk to me about my art and our lives.
I know that a few years ago you had a traumatic head injury and had to “re-learn” sculpting. What was that like for you and how did you go about it?
I suffered from a hematoma on my brain in 2007, which caused a significant amount of memory loss. It took me a year and a half before I was able to start sculpting again, and when I got back into the studio I realized that I had forgotten so much of the technique that I had created for myself over the years. It was exhausting and frustrating to have to figure out all over again the best technique to accomplish different effects in my sculpture. I would get stuck while sculpting and I would have to try different methods to achieve something that I knew I had perfected before. It was a hard journey but I am happy to say that I am back to my normal self in the studio.
What’s the story behind the Guardian Spirit sculpture at the Gallatin Airport?
I consider the grizzly bear to be the King and Guardian of the Montana wilderness, so I wanted to provide the airport with their own guardian spirit. I have even heard that the patina is being rubbed off the claws and they are now shiny because so many people rub them before they fly as a good luck charm! I really enjoy the pose that I chose, and my inspiration was my dog. He would always sit next to the couch and keep an eye on me in that same pose. One day I had an idea that it would be really fun to sculpt a great bear in that same position. In my eyes it turns the bear into Man’s Best Friend.
Rumor has it that you may be creating another piece for the airport. Can you tell us about that?
You will have to wait and see, but this is Bobcat Country.
So what do you do to relax?
I am a pretty normal guy. I really just love watching a good movie. I find it so easy to just lose yourself in a movie. A few of my favorites are Kalifornia, The Matrix, and Pumping Iron.
You have said that your family is the most important thing to you. Do they inspire your art in any way?
They actually do. My two daughters each have a sculpture that they have inspired and posed for. The most recent one was of my youngest daughter, entitled The New Dress. I just finished it this past winter.
Who came up with the name Planet Bronze?
I did. When I opened the gallery, I wanted the bronze work that is displayed to come from all over the world.
I would say that the Planet Bronze is one of the nicest galleries in Montana. How many artists display their work at PB, and how do you make choices of which artists to represent?
We show in between 30 and 40 artist in the gallery; it varies. I usually like to work with artists who I respect. It is extremely important that I have a good working relationship with them. A lot of the artists in the gallery are local and are good friends of mine. I think it is important to support the local art community. We are a small family and need each other’s support in order to succeed. There is also a specific feel in the gallery, so the art that I accept has to fit and complement the other works. A lot of the art we have is a contemporary spin on traditional western art.
Where are you now headed with your art?
I am really enjoying figural work at the moment. The female form is truly beautiful. I will continue exploring the different possibilities it has to offer, and I am excited to see where it takes me next.
What do you most want to be remembered for?
I think what is most important is to be remembered through my daughters. I want them to be proud of the art that I have done and will continue to do in the future. I also want the values that my wife and I pass on to them to be upheld and respected. That would ultimately be the best way to be remembered.
Describe Dennis Harrington in five words.
Thank You, Dennis!