PLEASANT GROVE, Utah Parents, take note: those Crayola and Play Dough masterpieces your youngsters create during sacrament meeting each week just might be the maiden works of a long, prolific and profitable art career.
It worked for Blair Buswell. Whenever young Blair got a bit restless during Sunday services at his Ogden, Utah, chapel, his mother handed him a Sucrets cough drops tin filled with three colors of clay and a few toothpicks. The child artist would sculpt tiny figures and hone his God-given ability to create.
Now 47, Brother Buswell still turns to clay to calm his restlessness. The former college athlete and full-time missionary has become one of the country's elite sculptors. His versatile works reflect his love of sports, the experience of the American West and his LDS faith. Along the way, Brother Buswell has shared his talents with others as an art instructor at institutions throughout the western United States.
"I just like to sculpt," says the plain-spoken Primary teacher.
And others apparently like his sculpting. For more than two decades, he has been commissioned by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, to create life-size busts of the Hall's annual inductees. He has placed some 50 busts in the Hall, including the bronzed images of gridiron icons Joe Montana, Eric Dickerson, Don Shula, Tom Landry, Ronnie Lott and Marcus Allen. He recently finished busts of John Elway and Barry Sanders in time for their 2004 Hall of Fame induction.
Before starting a bust, Brother Buswell spends time with each of the inductees, taking head measurements and spotting personality traits he hopes to capture in clay. He approaches each sitting as an artist and athlete. While studying art, Brother Buswell played college football at Ricks College and Brigham Young University.
His sports background can help build relationships with his subject. When four-time Super Bowl quarterback Terry Bradshaw learned the man commissioned to sculpt his inductee bust was himself a former gridder, the energetic Bradshaw shuffled Brother Buswell out to his yard and began grooving pigskin spirals to the artist.
Brother Buswell is already looking forward to working on the 2005 inductees. Two-time National Football League player of the year Steve Young a Church member and Brother Buswell's former teammate at BYU is expected to be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee next year.
The artist's major sports-themed works stretch beyond the NFL. Brother Buswell's larger-than-life-size commissions include bronze figures of golfer Jack Nicklaus for the Georgia Hall of Fame in Augusta, Ga., baseball legend Mickey Mantle at the Bricktown Ball Park in the Mick's home state of Oklahoma, and a dribbling Oscar Robertson for the University of Cincinnati.
Brother Buswell's other passions are evident in his non-sports artwork. He recently placed a 7-foot statue depicting actor Charlton Heston adorned in western wear in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. A returned missionary who served full-time in Washington D.C., Brother Buswell also sculpted the life-size bust of President Harold B. Lee found today in the Church Conference Center in Salt Lake City.
A member of the Alpine 10th Ward, Alpine Utah Stake, Brother Buswell teaches a Primary class with his wife, Julie.
A visit to the artist's massive studio in Pleasant Grove, Utah, reveals Brother Buswell's ongoing major project.
The First National Bank of Omaha has commissioned Brother Buswell and fellow LDS sculptor Ed Fraughton to produce a larger-than-life wagon train that will stretch across a city block in downtown Omaha, Neb. The bronzed wagon train is being designed to commemorate the American pioneer experience and will include several wagons, pioneer livestock and Native American images. The piece will not depict a specific group of pioneers instead standing "representative of wagon trains in general," Brother Buswell said.
The project will be completed over the next decade and installed in phases.
Brother Buswell said he and Brother Fraughton are trying to tell a story that goes beyond the mechanical movement of the pioneers. "I don't want to prove I can sculpt a wagon," he said. Instead, he hopes to share the essence of the Westward movement through his figures and faces. The pioneer family he is working on in his studio captures both the immediate enthusiasm of the children and the forward-looking apprehension of a father trying to keep a steady grip on the reins.
"This is my Mount Rushmore."
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