By Lyra Fontaine Cannon Beach Gazette Published on May 6, 2016
Without sculpting assistants or scanning technology, Heather Soderberg-Greene is creating a bronze eagle sculpture with a 55-foot wingspan entirely by hand.
It will soon be the largest sculpture of its kind in the country, and possibly the world.
“A lot of artists around here have said I’m crazy for doing it by hand,” she said. “Now, doing it all old school and by hand is being a rebel.”
The Cascade Locks-based artist, who will showcase new work at Primary Elements Gallery this weekend for the 16th annual Spring Unveiling Arts Festival, has always been somewhat of a rebel.
To show her sculptures are 100 percent handmade, she prefers to sculpt “slightly stylized,” like when she adds personal, artistic touches to the eagle’s fathers.
“It’s realistic,” she said, “but there’s some contemporary stylization.”
After completing the clay original, she will cut the eagle into smaller sections, since she casts about 3-by-2-foot sections at a time, and the pieces will be made into about 300 molds.
Soderberg-Greene uses a foundry process that she said was used centuries ago.
“It’s the same method Michelangelo used and all the old civilizations used but with a little more technology,” she said. “I love welding and the whole production process, the whole historical process, keeping that alive.”
Soon, she will rent an old fire station to complete the eagle’s bronze casting, in time for the client commissioning the eagle to promote it using a large semi trailer.
Building and casting a sculpture of such massive scale is no easy feat. The sculptor said that although she sometimes wishes she had “a robot doing all the hard work,” going up and down ladders and scaffolding all day is a “great workout.”
Soderberg-Greene is used to creating large-scale sculptures, though much smaller than 55 feet.
“The biggest I’ve done before are monuments of people,” she said, “and they’re only about 11 feet tall.”
The Port of Cascade Locks commissioned her statues of Sacagawea and Seaman, important figures in regional history. Soderberg-Greene said she enjoyed learning about Sacagawea’s “life and stories” and creating art for the community.
“I love public art,” she said. “I like to do bronze pieces because people can jump on it and interact with it and it won’t hurt it.”
Soderberg-Greene recently created a life-size bronze sculpture of a 5-year-old from Hood River who died from cancer. The sculpture will be placed on the girl’s grave.
“It was a pretty emotional experience. My heart just broke,” she said. “She was an amazing little girl, so vibrant and amazing and she fought it so much.”
The artist has also sculpted a pelican, owl, puffins, turtles, life-size dogs and more.
“I have a little bit more freedom sculpting animals,” she said, while portraits are focused on accuracy.
Although she creates prolific sculptures for various clients and is one of the first women to own a bronze foundry in the United States, Soderberg-Greene wasn’t always sure about making art a full-time career.
Growing up in Arizona, she created and sold her work before she was even in kindergarten. Her early sculpting skills, shaped by spending time in the foundry with her artist father, landed her in People magazine and National Geographic World.
Instead of pursuing art, Soderberg-Greene opted to study criminal science and psychology in college. After, she became a certified scuba diver in Hawaii.
“I completely rebelled and wanted nothing to do with art,” she said. “Then I understood that’s what I was meant to do.”
An near-drowning experience drew her back to sculpting.
“I took it for granted growing up in the foundry,” she said. “Now I love it and appreciate it.”
She got a job welding in a Portland foundry, began running her own foundry in 2009 and expanded to her current location in Cascade Locks.
Soderberg-Greene will return to Cannon Beach to unveil new work at Primary Elements Gallery, where her sculptures can be found year-round. She will be available to answer questions and demonstrate sculpting in clay for bronze sculpture Friday, May 6, from 1 to 5 p.m.
“Any chance I get to go there and participate in arts shows is just so much fun,” she said.
After the eagle, she has another sculpture lined up.
“It’s crazy in the art world,” she said. “It’s either total chaos or it’s dead.”