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July 1, 2003

5 Min Read

Award Winning sculptor R. David Mattiza

Once a key player in the tight-knit self-storage industry, R. David Mattiza now spends his days elbow-deep in clay, sculpting renowned works of art.

Mattiza spent 17 years in the self-storage business, designing and building facilities for big-name companies such as Mako Steel Inc. and Rigid Building Systems. While self-storage was his day job, his true passion was sculpting. He had attended the Banff School of Fine Arts in Banff, Alberta, Canada, and began sculpting Terra Cotta during the mid-1980s.

When Mattiza and his wife, Theresa, moved to Sedona, Ariz., a new-age Mecca for artists and spiritual types, five years ago, he found the courage and calling to pursue a new life. It was there he met John Soderberg, "one of the best monumental bronzists." Mattiza spent long hours working at Soderberg's studio at night. "That was really a transition," he says. "I realized I had done everything I could do in the self-storage industry. It was time to move on to the arts."

Mattiza spent three years learning and working with Soderberg before he and Theresa were called home to Texas for family reasons. "He showed me you can make a living at this," he says. Mattiza opened Epiphany Studio in the Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy, Texas. With Theresa running the business side, he was able to let his artistic talents flow.

His first piece was "Wintercount," a life-size bronze sculpture of a Native American. A bronze such as this can take six to eight months to sculpt and another 10 to 12 months to complete, with approximately 65 steps and nine major processes. Mike Brannon, owner of Mako Steel, and Caesar Wright, vice president, had such faith in Mattiza's sculpting pursuits they underwrote the first bronzing of the piece, as well as those of "Bridger" and "Life's Gifts."

Mattiza does a limited edition of each bronze sculpture. The size and difficulty determines how many are replicated. "With a life-size piece, there will probably not be more than 10," Mattiza says. "For a smaller piece--2-foot or 3-foot--I may make up to 20." Each one is marked and copyrighted. Of course, each replication may be slightly different. "The difference will be strictly in the coloring of them. The casting should be the same each time. But with coloring, each one will take on its own different look," Mattiza says.

Native American and Southwestern cultures are favorite subjects of Mattiza's. In addition to "Wintercount," Mattiza has produced several other pieces honoring the rich Native American culture. But it is his reflection on America's most recent tragedy--September 11--that has gained the 52-year-old artist the most attention.

Mattiza was home when news of the terrorist attacks began trickling in. After watching the second plane slam into the south tower of the World Trade Center, Mattiza headed to his studio. With one eye on the TV and another on a mound of clay, his hands began to create what would become a very important piece--professionally and personally.

"As an artist, the only way I knew how to cope with what was going on was to grab a piece of clay and start working," he recalls. With no design in mind, Mattiza's emotions poured into the piece. "Normally, I have some idea of where I'm going with a piece," he says. "With this one, I was strictly watching and working. The next thing I know, the piece had been completed in less than a couple of weeks." Titled "The Day America Cried," the sculpture features two of America's most recognized symbols: the bald eagle wrapped in an American flag.

The inspired piece has brought national recognition for the artist. It was selected to be placed in The Pentagon in Washington, D.C., to honor the many lives lost there as well as New York and Pennsylvania during the terrorist attacks. "The Day America Cried" was also placed in the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum located on the west campus of Texas A&M University. Another sculpture was sent to President George W. Bush to display in his home.

Signature live-size bronze by Mattiza: "Wintercount."

Although Mattiza has had many successes, the appreciation and heartfelt emotions he has garnered with the 9-11 sculpture stands out. "This is a good-bad piece. I wish I would of never had to do this piece, but it has gotten me a lot of recognition," he says. Mattiza also upped his standard limited-edition number to 100. All proceeds from the sculpture go to a Katy family who lost a family member working in Tower Two. The family, in turn, has created a scholarship fund that benefitted 20 children last year.

Mattiza has received other honors as well. He was awarded "Best of Show" in sculptures at the Bayou City Art Festival in Houston in the spring of 2002, where he had 18 pieces on display. Another piece, titled "The Guardian," was awarded a ribbon at the Woodlands Artfest in 2002. And his art has been displayed at different galleries, most recently the Thornwood Gallery in Houston.

In addition to working from the heart, Mattiza does commission work, most notably for Houston oil companies and Spindletop International, an organization that combines the charities of all the oil companies. Individual pieces run from $1,100 up to $30,000. A monumental piece can run $100,000.

With such success, Mattiza often wishes he'd made the career switch sooner. "I love it the minute I walk in the door to the minute I leave. It's a total reflection that is going on inside me. I can release anything that is happening--all my emotions are out there."

Even though Mattiza's self-storage days are behind him, the industry--and its people--still hold a place in his heart. "I loved the industry. I miss the industry and all my buds," he says. He still keeps in touch with former co-workers and even a few clients, some of whom have become collectors of his work. Still, there's no looking back for this sculptor. "As long as I'm able to keep doing this and feeling great about it, that's all I want to do."

For more information, visit www.thesculptor.com.   

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