For Rick Taylor and Carole Danyluk, field experience combined with art history are the secrets to great wildlife sculpture.
What happens when you mix a diehard world record outdoorsman who has chased and handled nearly every species of wild mountain sheep on earth with the aesthetic sensibilities of a non-hunter who has no interest in stalking animals for the trophy room or dinner plate?
Many SCIers might laugh at the notion of this being a potent recipe for wedded bliss, let alone an opportunity for more touchy-feely matrimonial bonding. But for Canadian artists Rick Taylor and Carole Danyluk, who work together in clay and bronze, that’s exactly what you get. These husband and wife sculptors apply their profound differences in perspective as strengths in making memorable wildlife sculptures that appeal to collectors in major cities and can be found in some of the remotest wilderness outposts in North America and Africa.
Pittsburgh health care professional Philip Ripepi is an international sportsman and ardent collector of Taylor’s and Danyluk’s work. “I collect several different painters but the pieces by Rick and Carole are the only bronzes I buy,” he says.
“The strength of Rick’s work is that he comes at it from the view of an experienced hunter. Carole may not carry a gun, but she’s been out there with him on adventures using them as opportunities to gather research for works they create in the studio. If Carole portrays otters, the composition is based on her personal observation. Witnessing their subjects live in the wild is what enhances their ability to authentically convey the animal’s spirit.”
Between Taylor, a retired taxidermist and former big game guide who holds a university degree in zoology, and Danyluk, an art historian and former high school teacher whose background includes prowling the finest art museums, one might think that one plus one equals two. Their collaboration, however, has actually yielded a trifecta of styles. Each produces their own distinct work and they have turned out some memorable gems that are co-signed.
“Any time I see a piece by Rick that I really like, which is often, I kid him by asking if maybe that’s a bronze Carole did,” Ripepi says. “Joking aside, they are a great team and they feed off each other’s creative energies.”
Taylor and Danyluk live in Kaslo, “a sleepy little old quiet mining town,” about 100 miles north of Spokane. Their studio overlooks Kootenay Lake at the foot of the Selkirk Mountains. For them, it’s well insulated from the hubbub of a major population center and allows them ready access to the mountains of British Columbia. In Kaslo, they also operate the White Goat Gallery of Wildlife Art. Danyluk also shows at ART of MAN Galleries at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC and Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta.
When it comes to art, their tastes and knowledge are cosmopolitan. “When people ask what ignited my inspiration,” Taylor, who grew up on the Alberta prairie, says, “I remember when I was 10 years old holding a pheasant in my hands thinking ‘This bird is so spectacular—now how can I do something that will enable me to convey the beauty of it forever?’”
After enrolling in a taxidermy correspondence course through a magazine ad, Taylor started preparing mounts of game birds and pouring himself into every reference book he could find. He stumbled upon a tome about the great James Clark and Carl Akeley, the latter being a hunter and specimen preparer who accompanied Theodore Roosevelt to Africa and turned TR’s harvested animals into wildlife action mounts and dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History. [Earlier Akeley honed his skills at the Field Museum in Chicago]. Eventually, both parlayed their experiences into producing some truly memorable bronze sculptures featuring wildlife and African tribal figures.
Taylor says Clark and Akeley demonstrated the power of connecting hunting and artistic expression. After high school, he studied wildlife biology at the University of Calgary. Amid those years he also worked as specimen preparer for a museum. He perfected the skill of building up the appearance of animal mass and musculature using burlap and plastic before putting the hides on and making the animals seem real.
Taylor, who poured his first bronze in the mid 1980s, has helped make fine art a fixture at SCI and he’s among those sculptors who have been exhibiting at the show the longest. By fate, he met Danyluk at a hunting show. “I was peddling hunts and my bronzes and then she appears, and you could say that I became distracted.”
They dated for a short while and then married. Danyluk has degrees from both the University of Alberta and University of Calgary. At the time of their courtship, Danyluk painted and took photographs and was just beginning in bronze. They made their artistic debut together at SCI in the early 1990s and haven’t looked back. “His body of work, the good stuff anyway, really started to take off when I came on the scene,” she jokes. Readers may laugh, but it’s a contention Taylor doesn’t dispute.
“I think what really registers for collectors is that Rick isn’t interested in portraying a perfect, idealized animal,” “His African lions have manes like you actually see. The same with his sheep and goats and elk. Very few sheep don’t have broken horns. They have natural flaws from living rugged lives and that’s what makes them compelling—and believable.”
Danyluk, since she doesn’t hunt, says she tries to communicate a different visual language from her husband. “Carole is a great judge of what is worthy to leave the studio or not,” Taylor says. “She’s like a matron in the Roman coliseum giving a thumbs up or down that will determine whether the gladiator lives or dies. If she gives a thumbs down, I know that I still have work to do. Her suggestions can make all the difference in the world.”
Danyluk shares her own philosophy, “I’ve always believed that in sculpting things, which in our case means animals, it can be futile if all you want to do is replicate a subject. Then it is only a piece of metal shaped like an animal. Where is the art in that?” she asks.
“As artists, what we are really sculpting is what you don’t see and giving the animal a context meaning the environment where it lives. If you are trying to sculpt a dolphin, you’re conceptually also sculpting the water that the dolphin is suspended in. If you’re sculpting a bald eagle in bronze or stone, you want to capture the air holding its wings and convey the physics of life.”
When I asked Danyluk whose work historically inspired her, she mentions the French sculptor and graphic artist Camille Clodell, a member of the 19th century school of sculpture known as “les Animaliers” and a student of the master August Rodin. “They were the real deal in transforming visions of animals into fine art that still inspires across the ages.”– Todd Wilkinson