Alan Cottrill’s Studio

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.

Do More Of That

If you are lucky, every once in a while you’ll find yourself in a place where you sigh and say “this is it, this is why I exist.”

Take note when that happens and do more of that. Whatever it may be.

This feeling defined Saturday for me.

I spent the day in Zanesville, Ohio where I had a lovely visit with my pal Jerry and had meaningful interactions with people who I never knew I needed to know.

Jerry is the co-manager of the National Road-Zane Grey Museum where we met a few years ago. Truth be told, he has children who are about my age but, despite the difference in years, we are kindred spirits and pals who delight in rich conversations.

I wanted to visit sculptor Alan Cottrill’s studio and Jerry arranged for us to also meet painter Michael Seiler at his studio around the corner. We were fortunate to also meet his wife Kathleen who is a talented poet.

These were two drastically different experiences but both were fascinating, enlightening and fun in their own way.

Alan Cottrill’s studio is an old industrial space with an atmosphere defined by fabulous light. You can chat with and watch the artisans at work while examining representations of an assortment of pieces from Alan’s vast body of work.

We had the pleasure of meeting Alan and had a positively delightful chat. He is one of the most modest men I have ever met. In his own way, he dispensed wisdom that gave great insight into his own success and worldview.

Worldview was also the emphasis of our conversation with Mike and Kathleen. Their studio and home are in an old church. It’s also defined by light and filled with eclectic pieces, lots of plants and small animals that breathe life and beauty into every corner.

We talked about his painting and her poetry but their art is only a part of this beautiful life they have built. They seem to bring an artistry to all they do beginning with their faith and marriage, their contributions to the world at large and their community where they have surrounded themselves with those who share their vision as citizens of the world.

I am excited to tell you about both places so come back for more very soon. These experiences are the reason why we travel. These experiences remind us of our humanity, of the beauty in the world, of the goodness in others.

It was a breath of fresh air and food for the soul in one.

Honoring The 297 Who Died

One of the most significant war memorials that I have seen is in downtown Zanesville, Ohio on the Muskingum County Courthouse lawn. It’s dedicated to the 297 men from this county who died in World War II and Korea.

Those casualties are represented by 297 empty helmets, haphazardly piled atop an earthen mound. Each helmet is inscribed with a name.

Behind the helmets, there are two larger than life soldiers – one comforting the other who grieves their fallen comrades. At the front of the pile there’s another young man. I like the way the plaque describes this soldier. “We have a strapping young man striding forward with a purposeful gaze into the future.”

The memorial was sculpted by Alan Cottrill in 2012. He is an Army veteran and artist whose studio and gallery in downtown Zanesville welcomes visitors.

According to his website, Cottrill has arguably the largest body of work by any living sculptor with commissioned monuments throughout the country. You can learn more about the artist at his website by clicking here.

You can pay your respects on the Courthouse lawn at the corner of Main and Fifth streets. There’s a nice garden with benches and other monuments here too.

It really is an extraordinary sculpture and worth a detour into downtown if you’re in the area.