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Sculpting and bronze work is a family affair for the Caswells.
Visit Nadaka Nature Park in Rockwood to see two of their latest pieces on display in East Multnomah County. The park, at 17615 N.E. Glisan St., is home to a bronze otter, sculpted by Rip Caswell, and a raven, created by his son Chad. Chase, Rip's other son, helped cast the pieces and move them along to their final stage.
Though he had never been to Nadaka, the park's focus on natural elements aligned nicely with Rip's passion of capturing nature in his work.
"It is wonderful having artists like Rip here in the area," said Judy Han, president of Gresham Outdoor Public Art. "The sculptures he and his sons make are beautiful, and our community deserves these nice things."
Rip opened his studio, Caswell Sculpture, in Troutdale in 1992 after developing a love for art as a child growing up in northeast Washington. The studio has since grown, now in its 25th year in the community. And for Rip, the best part has been being alongside his kids — Chase, 26, and Chad, 24.
"Working with my sons and watching them progress has been special," Rip said. "I'm proud of every piece they make."
What draws people to the family's work is the emotion they impart onto their subjects. Every piece has a dynamism beneath the surface, looking as if the moments are in action. The trick, according to the artists, is having that same emotion while sculpting.
"If you feel the emotion yourself it will translate through you work," Chad said.
Pathways to art
Rip first discovered his love of sculpting and art amid tragedy. He was 10-years-old and living on a farm in Newport, Wash., when his brother was killed in a car accident. During this rough time in his life, Rip discovered clay on the banks of the Pend Oreille River.
"Making things made me feel better. It helped me process my emotions," he said.
Soon his room was filled with clay sculptures, and his parents were supportive of his new passion.
"Art became my best friend, a way for me to communicate and relate," Rip said.
His favorite part of sculpting is seeing people interact with his work, as bronze sculptures are one of the few art forms that encourage people to come up and touch them. At the Nadaka unveiling, Rip and several of the patrons who helped bring the statues to the park had to wait to take an official photo because kids couldn't help but run up and pet the otter.
"I have an ability to impart nature's beauty to others in a tangible way," Rip said.
Chad also started sculpting with clay early on in life, as soon as he was old enough to realize it wasn't something to eat.
"I grew up around art, and it became a way for me to turn my imagination into something physical," he said. "My mom and dad worked in a gallery, its where we were raised."
Now, Chad enjoys the combination of technology with sculpting, using digital programs to create his pieces on a computer screen.
"It's not much different from the standard process, just that the lump of clay is on a screen," Chad said. "I've been trying to grow that industry and help other artists."
Chad's favorite piece was a monument he made for McMinnville — a statue honoring World War II veteran Leonard DeWitt. DeWitt served in Japan, and was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the war. For Chad, it was a special project because he met with DeWitt while sculpting the piece. He made the statue when he was 20 years old, the same age DeWitt was when he served overseas.
Chase was drawn into casting later in life. In college, he discovered that paperwork and working in an office didn't fit who he was. So, two years ago he joined his dad at the studio.
"I realized I needed to work with my hands and be creative," he said.
Chase makes all the molds for the artists who have their sculptures cast at the studio. It's a technical process he loves diving into, as both the final product and the mold must be completed at a high-quality.
"I am the middle man between the artist and their finished work," he said. "I love being able to work alongside so many different people."
Troutdale and the other surrounding cities have all been supportive of Rip's work from the beginning, appreciating the art and helping grow the business. From tourists passing through on their way into the Columbia River Gorge to locals with a thirst for creativity, Troutdale has been the perfect place for the Caswells.
"People here appreciate nature and wildlife, and they've been wonderful patrons," Rip said.
Rip is drawn to capturing nature through his sculptures, so being close to many natural wonders has been a boon for him as an artist.
"The gorge is right here and we can easily escape into local beauty at the coast and mountains," he said.
There is also a new source of inspiration right across the street from his studio, 903 E. Historic Columbia River Highway. Rip has been putting the final touches on Caswell Sculpture Garden, which will serve as a private venue for events and weddings.
The first event to christen the site will be Rip's own wedding to his fiancé Alison Brown, another bronze sculptor, which will be held the weekend of Aug. 26.
"We wanted to have the wedding at the sculpture garden, so we have been working hard to bring everything together," Rip said.
In the garden there is a pond, moon door, and open space filled with greenery and statues forged by the Caswells. The space has already helped Rip come up with new ideas for statues, as his piece in Nadaka Nature Park was conceived after watching a river otter spend time living in the pond.
The family is working on completing a life-sized honor guard statue that will be displayed at the Clackamas Town Center. Chad is also making a three-and-a-half-foot teddy bear which will be placed on a bench in downtown Gresham to honor the Soroptomist's famous Teddy Bear Parade.
Through all the hundreds of statues Rip has sculpted, he doesn't have a favorite, instead he serves as his harshest critic. For him the next piece is always his favorite because in his mind it is perfect.
"I am always striving for perfection. It is part of why I have kept sculpting," he said.
The other part is working alongside his loved ones. And for his kids, the feeling is mutual.
"It's best to do something you love with the people you love," Chad said.