Alan Cottrill’s life story sounds like the plot of a great book. He grew up poor in Appalachian Ohio, the first in his family to graduate high school. He tried the Army and college before starting a successful fast food chain that led him to become an international entrepreneur.
When he discovered the joy of working with clay, he sold his business interests to dedicate his life to becoming one of the world’s finest figurative sculptors. He has studied both art and anatomy and has studied under some of the world’s best sculptors.
Did I mention that he did all of this while living with ADHD?
My first introduction to Alan’s work was last year when I found his installation at the Muskingum County Courthouse in Zanesville. You can read about that here.
Despite his talent and fame, Alan still takes the time to chat with visitors who stop by his studio in downtown Zanesville, Ohio. That’s how my pal Jerry and I got to meet him earlier this month.
Located on an old industrial space, this is a working studio and gallery for both Alan’s work and for his personal art collection. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was how the morning light streamed through enormous old windows. The second thing I noticed was the smell. It smells old, a cocktail of scents like clay, dust, hot metal and oil that have accumulated over time. I mean this as a compliment as the smell of a place lends to its authenticity. This place is very much alive with an abundance to take in.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to look at first. I was there to see Alan’s work but was so taken with the building and with other art on the walls that it was much like being a kid in a candy store.
His sculptures are incredible and you’ll find representations both large and small inside as well as some gorgeous life size pieces outside. His subjects range from athletes to historic figures to everyday people.
I took a few art history classes in college but, when it comes to art, I really just know what I like. I really like his work.
My favorite piece, pictured above and below, is called “The Old Mushroom Hunter.” It seems larger than life and so full of motion that I expected him to start dispensing wisdom about the woods. Alan seemed pleased when I mentioned it and explained that this piece is somewhat autobiographical. He said he has been a lifelong mushroom hunter but that he also found inspiration in childhood memories of his relatives from West Virginia.
I saw in this statue’s face character and wisdom that comes from living off the land. He reminded me of my own family and of generations of Appalachians who earned every line and crease in their faces.
There are so many amazing things to see here including a bust of Thomas Edison. This is from his work on a statue that you’ll find representing Ohio in the US Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
He won a national contest to design the Edison statue. His competitors came to the table armed with small models of what they would do if chosen. Alan came armed with the completed statue. He invested $100,000 of his own money and countless hours in research, design and creation to edge out the competition. I can hardly wait to go look for it in DC someday.
Alan is friendly, he smiles easily and is quick with a story. He studies people and doesn’t miss much. The artwork is fabulous but chatting with him was the highlight of our visit. Getting to meet the artist, the insight that you’ll get from the conversation, is priceless.
He’s working on an important and very personal project to tell the story of his own Native American ancestry. We learned about this and about the very intricate work that goes into the process of creating a single sculpture.
We also learned some about the business end of this work from an artisan. While it is a business where people can and do commission pieces, what he does seems incredibly personal and meaningful.
Here’s one more picture of a man with his faithful friend. The dog’s eyes are soulful and the deep sense of caring between the man and his dog is palpable.
Go visit Alan Cottrill and take it all in for yourself. Smell and see and talk and listen. It’s well worth your time. Want to learn more? Get hours and see more of his work, at Alan’s website by clicking here.
I say this a lot but – one more time for the cheap seats – this is why we explore.
This is how we get the most out of our experiences. Take the time to look around, to absorb your surroundings and to talk with people who will tell you their story. The reward often is found in the people rather than the place. Don’t just rush through life. Slow down, study a place, talk to the people and take it all in. I loved seeing the art but the true reward came from listening to others share the wisdom they have amassed.