A recent essay by Michael Wehunt
The restlessness of calm. The intangible released from the ageless and raw, that buoyant flow of stone. Richard Erdman continues to find beauty in the conundrums of the soul. His eye and hand follow his muse across ever-widening circles. Resonance is brought, humming and alive, from the adamant veins of the earth.
The past six years have seen Erdman’s pieces reach new and exciting corners of the world and its consciousness. His work has now been shown in more than 140 solo and group exhibitions in North America, Europe, and Asia. He has more than one hundred commissioned works in museums and collections both public and corporate, and private collectors in fifty countries – on five continents - have acquired his pieces. Long renowned for the grace and rhythm of his sculpture, his reputation has further gained a depth and density as substantial as his own beloved marble and bronze. The sinuous fluidity of his work is a remarkable parallel to his artistic reach, as the younger pieces weave and twist and flower into new and inspired ideals, while binding a linkage with his oeuvre, his legacy.
On Jupiter Island, Florida, Grande Eleos seems to balance on the surface of mirrored water. Installed at the private residence of the founder and CEO of CJX Holdings, the 3,500 pound piece draws the eye of the soul along the reflecting pool toward the widescreen sea. Formed from 28 tons of Italian Bardiglio Marble, Erdman aptly realized the dual nature of the ocean—its fierceness and its vast placidity, that inimitable restless calm again. Peace and a natural fury bound in harmony.
While Grande Eleos suggests weightlessness above water, Crescendo seems to have emerged from a pool like some prehistoric monolith. Installed in a beautiful new park in Houston, Texas, Crescendo speaks of primitive majesty, curved in the manner of the rib bone of a mythic whale, yet carrying a voice of hope with both ends lifted to the sky. Erdman’s largest sculpture since the resounding success ofPassage in the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens at PepsiCo, Crescendoindeed is a fitting title. Originating from 32 tons of the aforementioned Italian Bardiglio Marble, the piece crowns an exciting public amalgam of profound art and greenspace.
To the northwest of Crescendo’s home, Erdman has installed the pure and horned form of Suonare Grande. In the central courtyard of the Belmont Group’s world headquarters in Dallas, Texas, this piece rises like smoke from its octagonal plinth. Carved from white Carrara Marble, it resembles not so much the figure 8 as an infinity symbol aspiring to the heavens, its points crossed in meditation.
Erdman has recently installed Volante Seoul in South Korea, his first foray into that country. Emerged from Carrara Marble, the 2,000 pound piece instills a gentler grace, winged and fluted in midflight, its planes curling like thirsty petals. The piece was commissioned by South Korea’s most prominent fashion entity, Handsome Fashion, Inc., after the CEO discovered the Singapore Four Seasons hotel’s major collection of four stone Erdman pieces. Volante Seoul captures the aesthetic edginess of its benefactors while retaining the Erdman prowess of releasing new splendor from the rigid earth beneath us.
Erdman’s harmony might be most exemplified in Cantilena, a private commission installed in a Las Vegas, Nevada, sculpture garden. The eye sees two figures of Italian Bardiglio Marble reposed back to back, curved up toward each other’s support, like two lovers embracing while they stargaze. Contentment flows alongside the search for transcendence.
Within the central lobby of the New Dehli world headquarters of Bharti Airtel, India’s largest telecomm corporation, Aikyam sits upon a pedestal as a testament to the unending flow of movement and communication. This is Erdman’s first corporate commission in India. Hewn from Peruvian Travertine, Aikyam stands eight feet tall and speaks of unifying symmetry. Attached to its base by a pin, the piece can be turned to all points of the globe, its smoothly sharp contours reaching to every horizon.
Cuore Rosa is another breathtaking piece rendered from Persian Red Travertine. A private commission for a former CEO of General Electric, Cuore Rosa is installed upon a granite reflecting pool at the entrance to a lovely Palm Beach home in Florida. Erdman was inspired by romantic love and brought something truly magnificent from the stone. In the form of an expanding, eternal heart, the piece seems to sing of the steady, euphoric pulse of love.
In his home state of Vermont, Erdman was touched by a commission for two bronze sculptures for the Marriott Hotel on Lake Champlain. Toulouse and Form Reclining will be installed in the hotel’s entrance and garden plazas, respectively.Toulouse, at seven and a half feet tall, nearly hums in affinity with its vast neighbors of mountains and lake that surround the hotel. It speaks of the joy of nature with its leaping, subtly gymnastic arches. Form Reclining, meanwhile, takes a more inward, reflective approach suiting its garden placement, a bronze oyster closing in contemplation.
The elegant Lumiere Casino and Resort in St. Louis, Missouri, recently chose Erdman, out of a pool of 100 respected artists, to install two pieces to complement the new resort, which was inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: Helio Grande, a writhing, organic loop of bronze, and Summer II, a gorgeous Yellow Travertine piece. The two works stand disparately, yet both are unmistakably cousins, over eight feet tall and blending warmth and modernity. The committee judges ventured further still into Erdman appreciation by selecting a third piece,Levande Rose, a smaller work of red traventine, for the Four Seasons hotel’s main lobby.
The immense MGM Grand Resort and Entertainment Center in Detroit, Michigan, selected Erdman’s Sequita II, a rapturous bronze sculpture spanning over four feet, from a national competition. Installed in the resort’s focal point—poised upon the central lobby’s reflecting pool—Sequita II appears to be taking flight, soaring with surreal and unfurling wings.
Brazilian Blue Granite is a material Erdman recently set his ambition and prodigious talents upon. The coarse-grained igneous rock requires great skill and care to sculpt, typically relegated to small-scale works. From this gorgeous, complex stone Erdman has bloomed Blu Fleur, a staggering statement of arrested flow and leaping movement. Commissioned for the CEO of a multinational corporation in Lucerne, Switzerland, the piece stands eight and a half feet tall, the largest sculpture ever created from this blue granite. The rich color of this granite afforded Erdman a unique palate, and the results convey a deep, emotional resonance. The senses are cleansed in Blu Fleur’s wash of imagery.
Having enjoyed such success with Brazilian Blue Granite, Erdman soon found himself in the grip of its inspiration once more. Sentinel possesses a liquidity, rising eight and a half stern yet dynamic feet to gaze into the future. Robert Landau, of Landau Fine Art, has collaborated with renowned landscape architect Enzo Enea to install Sentinel in the latter’s magnificent tree garden in Lake Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland. Enea and Landau have planned an additional three large-scale pieces for the tree garden, and Erdman is currently drawing beauty from stone that will complement such an unparalleled environment.
Returning to the expressive and regal Italian Bardiglio Marble, a client has commissioned Erdman for a remarkable centerpiece for a private home in Cabos San Lucas, Mexico. At the marriage point of the Cortez Sea and the Pacific Ocean sits this lovely house, and at its heart, upon a reflecting pool, will stand Eleos Cascada. Seven and a half feet tall, the piece radiates peace and reverie as the eye follows its winding path without an end. The lines of Eleos Cascada curl in upon themselves in their supreme, tireless journey.
Which brings one back to that restlessness of calm, the many conundrums of the human soul. Richard Erdman is singular in his vision, and as his work continues to spread, beautifying environments across the earth, enriching the senses of all its beholders, that intertwining thread of creation will resound: a dynamic truth from the immutable, perpetual motion from beneath us.
A feature in Vermont’s Stowe Reporter by Andrew Nemethy
Most days he commutes just a few steps, from the elegant, three-story red-brick 1829 house where he lives to his sculpture studio on a spacious 88-acre parcel on the rural western side of Williston, far from the hubbub of mall land.
Five or six times a year, he commutes a bit farther: to Carrara, Italy, where his flowing, abstract visions are transformed into stone under his exacting guidance, carved by some of the best craftspeople in the world. Working steeped in the ambiance of a province where Roman quarries date back some 2,000 years, he’s surrounded by white limestone hills and has time for “mangia” and “vino” amidst the lush landscape of the Tuscany region.
Not a bad way to make a living: It’s La Dolce Vita meets Green Mountain gringo, a delicious pairing born of an exuberant love of marble, a passion sunk deep into his mental bedrock as a boy. Drawing inspiration from geology, history, an art degree and his Vermont upbringing in the marbled hills around Dorset, Erdman has now spent almost four decades of his life mining a remarkable, resourceful and prolific vein of creative energy.
At 61, Erdman guesses he has created more than 1,000 sculptures, large and small. He is well aware he’s living the dream: Doing what you love, in landscapes you love, whether it’s the Green Mountains or the hills of northern Italy, not far from Florence and the Italian Riviera.
Does he pinch himself now and then? Yes.
“I’m just a humble sculptor. I’m honored to do this,” Erdman says, showing a visitor around the post and beam former machine shop that has been converted into his studio.
With its two big garage doors rolled up on a sunny day, he works looking out on his house, fields and the barn where his wife Madeleine Austin raises horses and provides a home for the University of Vermont equestrian team. Looking in, the tall-ceilinged studio is cluttered with photos, sketches, models, tools, and the tables where he ingeniously creates small-scale wire-mesh and plaster models — “it’s not a technique you learn. I kind of invented this” — that eventually emerge as sculptures from massive stone blocks he hand-picks in Carrara.
Scattered throughout on pedestals are some of his completed sculptures, abstract forms that take wing and flow into myriad shapes, all waiting to flow out to galleries and buyers around the world. An attached office houses two employees who help handle his expansive world-wide business.
It’s a modern paradigm that Vermonters sometimes have to go outside the state’s boundaries to forge a living, even as they choose to live here to forge a wholesome life. Erdman is a paragon of the paradigm. He’s a Burr and Burton and University of Vermont graduate whose parents ran a ski lodge called Erdman’s Eyrie near Bromley and Stratton ski areas, where he honed skills that made him a two-time NCAA All-American. Erdman says his Vermont upbringing with his two siblings not only cemented his bonds with the Green Mountains, but created the sculptor he has become.
“I’m a risk-taker business-wise, and as an artist,” he explains. “We grew up watching our parents create their own lifestyle, not for money. They didn’t get rich doing this,” he says, and his parents gave the kids a lot of freedom as long as they met their family responsibilities. “That allowed us to become individuals and to pursue what we were good at,” he reflects.
Skiing the mountains, diving off marble quarries in Dorset, spelunking in caves in his boyhood formed the adventurous person that Erdman remains today — and enabled the creative adventure that informs and drives his art. That spirit is what inspired him to head to Carrara after UVM and plunge as a novice into the world of marble, establishing a connection that has only grown stronger through the decades. Though he jokes that he “was the only one stupid enough” in his family to try to make a living by going into art, it turns out to have been a smart decision.
Though hardly a household name in Vermont, he’s sent his sculptures of marble, travertine (a speckled, colorful form of limestone) and bronze to 50 countries around the world and had works shown in more than 140 solo and group exhibitions. They’re sold at prices starting in the tens of thousands of dollars to prestigious corporate sites and museums. In 1985 — through a ski shop connection — he got a commission to create the largest travertine sculpture in the world, a mind-bending 25-foot-long, 16-foot-high work carved out of one 450-ton piece of stone that stands as the signature piece at the PepsiCo Sculpture Gardens in New York. From Korea to Switzerland, New Delhi to Singapore, Florida to California, Erdman’s signature sinuous forms now capture the eye, often paired with a watery setting, equal parts mystery and suggestion.
The words in catalogs stumble in describing what he does with stone. Unlike the gray solidity and realistic forms that characterize Vermont’s famed granite, Erdman’s ideas are all about defying gravity, convention and possibility. His sculptures are shape-shifting, fluid, effervescent and aspiring, often Mobius strips of one continuous form that makes you wonder, “How did he possibly carve that into stone?”
By working in abstract forms, conjuring shapes that seem an impossibility, Erdman says he seeks to capture both “adrenaline and inspiration,” leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions about each piece — and him to test the limits of sculpture and his imagination.
“If you’re not pushing yourself, then to me you’re not fully alive,” he explains. “To me the whole focus is on the sculpture. It’s not about me; I’m just making the thing.”
With wavy brown hair going gray, a lean physique and rugged aquiline features, Erdman has an exuberant mile-a-minute stream-of-thought way of talking and a kinetic style that makes the word “outgoing” seem understated.
Talk with Erdman for long, though, and behind the polished surface of success, familiar streaks of Vermont show through. He’s an artist humorously wary of trusting his good luck, and loathe to tout his good luck. Erdman lives by a very Vermont motto of count-your-blessings and keep your nose to the grindstone, or in his case, stone grinder.
“You never rest on your laurels,” he says. There’s part of him deep down that still fears he’ll look up and discover a mirage — which provides, he admits, a good piece of his drive.
“I tend to shy away from the easy route. I shy away from the bunny slopes, because who wants to do the easy thing,” he says. Whether it’s art or recreation or just living, “I find that we’re most alive when our senses are fully engaged.”
His artistic life is balanced by an important grounding in friendships and all the outdoor pursuits that offer respite from his immensely scattered responsibilities as designer, sculptor, salesman, marketer and publicist. He skis, bikes, paddles, sails and is a renowned practical joker, never far from an irrepressible adolescent energy. His art and way of life are flip sides of the same coin, he explains.
“Life isn’t just working eight-to-five in the studio. It’s the rest of the day. Those things are important to creativity itself,” he reflects.
Andrew Nemethy is a veteran journalist and editor who lives in Calais.