In The Studio: Korean Pieta


Notice anything missing from our sculpture?  That’s right, the arms!  We are excited to share with you that our Korean Pieta was dismantled and crated up for its journey to be molded.  The sculpture left our studio on Friday and will be sent to the mold maker.  Once the mold has been formed we will then travel to the foundry for the casting process.  As you can imagine we are very excited to see the Pieta heading to final casting.  We will keep you updated on the progress here on the blog.  Anna traveled to Korea this past November, click HERE for the full story.

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Our Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument

Dr King Monument 02

Back in the Fall of 1997, we were awarded the opportunity to create a bronze monument of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the University of Texas in Austin, Texas.  There was a nationwide competition for the monument and the competitors were quite formidable.  All the competing sculptors started their careers earlier than we did making their resumes much more expansive as a result.  Ultimately, our sculpture maquette presentation and concept of Dr. King with bas-relief pedestal received unanimous approval from the judging committee.  The university student body voted in favor of our sculpture maquette as well.  It was most certainly a pivotal moment in our professional careers.

The Dr. King monument was, at that time, our most ambitious and most expansive sculpture project.  Not only did we create the bronze sculpture but we also designed the limestone platform for the monument.  We had the great opportunity to work with our friend John Payne, the university architect, who effectively coordinated the project.

We spent many hours researching and acquiring as much information possible on Martin Luther King, Jr.  We knew from the very beginning that sculpting a good likeness of Dr. King was of paramount importance.  We know from experience that when a figurative sculpture is unveiled, the first thing people naturally focus on is the face.

During our research, we had the privilege of meeting the photographer, Flip Schulke, who was to the Southern Civil Rights Movement what the photographer, Matthew Brady, was to the Civil War.  Over the years Flip Schulke amassed thousands of photographs recording many events in the Civil Rights Movement.  Flip was very close to the King family and knew other major leaders of the Civil Rights Movement such as Ralph Abernathy and John Lewis.  He was very generous and he even gave us photo proof sheets of Dr. King preaching in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.  The proof sheets and our visit to the Ebenezer Baptist Church reaffirmed our original concept of portraying Dr. King in his doctoral minister robe as well as the design for the pedestal, which houses the bas-relief panels, based on the pulpit Dr. King used while giving his sermons.

Most people view Dr. King as a social activist who always wore a regular suit.  Our portrayal shows him as he really was – a Baptist minister.  Dr. King believed in his heart that he was always a Baptist preacher.  The doctoral robe also emphasizes the idea that Dr. King received a doctorate in Theology.  He was well versed, not only in Judeo-Christian theology, but also philosophy and history.  It can be stated that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the great social philosophers of his time.

Dr King Monument 01

The bas-relief pedestal illustrates the seminal events which Dr. King experienced in the Civil Rights Movement.  The front panel of the pedestal depicts the “I Have a Dream” speech he delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  The left side panel shows Dr. King in the infamous Birmingham Jail and the right side panel illustrates the hazards marchers had to endure when trying to march peacefully in Selma, Alabama.  Finally, the back panel depicts Coretta King and her daughter, Bernice, grieving at Dr. King’s funeral.  This painful scene pays homage to Dr. King’s martyrdom and to the ultimate price he paid for his belief in a more just society.  While creating the pedestal relief panels, we had the benefit of having some of our friends pose for the front panel and we even included ourselves with Bishop Perry of Chicago in the marcher scene on the right side panel.

Dr King Monument 04

During the process of creating our Dr. King Monument, we experienced much praise, recognition, and even controversy.  Our film maker friend, Greg Gantner took many hours of film footage from the first day of the monument’s inception to the final dedication at the University of Texas.  When the Dr. King sculpture was almost completed in the clay stage, a local television station broadcasted our work on the evening news.  We felt it important to get as much publicity possible concerning the monument and to have as much documentation through Greg Gantner’s film footage for historical record.  Soon after the media coverage we received, in the mail, a disturbing Neo-Nazi pamphlet with Waffen SS runes on the front page.  We immediately gave the pamphlet to the local authorities.  A few days later we were shocked to discover that most of our clay Dr. King sculpture was destroyed.  To this day it’s still inconclusive to us whether it was an armature flaw or an act of vandalism.  The insurance company determined that it could have been an act of vandalism because the right arm of the armature seemed to have been pulled out by someone rather than pulled down by gravity.  Despite this setback, we were able to fully recover and our final rendition of the Dr. King figure turned out even better

Dr King Monument 03

The final unveiling and dedication of our Dr. King Monument was a total success and it was praised by both the media and Martin Luther King III.  Several months later the Dr. King monument was splattered with eggs and was immediately cleaned up by student volunteers.  There was so much controversy and debate from the left and the right concerning the monument.  When one visits the Austin, Texas Capitol and the University of Texas campus, one is immediately struck by how many monuments there are glorifying the Confederacy.  One can see how controversial it was for reactionaries to even consider a monument dedicated to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and there was talk amongst progressives about removing the sculptures of the Confederacy altogether in the spirit of political correctness.  We believe that the sculptures dedicated to the memory of the Confederacy should remain where they are as a lesson in history.  Future generations can see our Dr. King monument standing alongside the Confederate sculptures.  It’s a reminder and symbol of America’s willingness to improve itself.

As our nation observes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day we are reminded of the contributions and the ultimate sacrifice Dr. King made in his quest for equal rights through the Civil Rights Movement.  It is a reminder of the progress that’s been made in the human condition and how much still has to be achieved.  After all, the idea of America is not only a diverse nation of states, but also a nation undergoing an ongoing progression process made possible through the rule of law.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Card

We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a New Year of
good fortune and happiness.
We hope that everyone can take any challenge in their
life and turn it to an advantageous gift of strength and courage.

Anna’s Clay Models

Anna's Clay 01When I have time to create my own sculpture works, I usually create small sculpture maquettes and small bas-relief sculpture panels.  Most of my small works are a product of spontaneous play and improvisation.  At times I don’t have a clear precise idea how my personal sketches will turn out. Sometimes these small clay works become workable models for larger and more expansive sculpture projects.

 When my son, Adam, was 3 ½ years old, his pre-k teacher asked him what his parents did for a living.  He thought carefully and then replied, “My mommy and daddy play with play-dough all day long.”  What an appropriate answer!  His reply had a directness, simplicity, and honesty that one would expect from a preschooler and is certainly what my husband and I do with clay.  Clay feels like it has a life of its own when I have it in my hands.  When I work on sculpture, I’m reminded of what St. Benedict said, “Work is prayer and prayer is work.”  For me, creating sculpture is an act of prayer.

 Anna's Clay 02

When I create a bas-relief sculpture, I feel like I’m telling a story.  That’s what, for me, makes bas-relief a very unique sculptural expression.  It encompasses so many different artistic elements: form, space, volume, texture, depth, foreshortening, and perspective.  For example, a bas-relief sculpture can have a three-dimensional figure incorporated with low-relief drawing elements that can give the illusion of perspective in the background (this is why drawing ability is crucial in bas-relief sculpture).

Many contemporary artists believe that there is no need to study the great works of the past and that an artist needs only to stress concepts and to simply trust his or her inner vision.  Skill is regarded as a secondary concern at best.  I believe that learning skills and techniques expands artistic development.  Just having a good concept is not enough.  A good concept, reinforced with knowledge and skill, makes a work of art so much stronger.

Anna's Clay 03

 Many Artists, not familiar with bas-relief techniques, think that all one has to do is cut a center cross-section of a figure and simply stick it on top of a flat clay surface.  What they fail to realize is that the flat clay background surface is just as important as the projecting image.  A good bas-relief gives the illusion that the images are emerging from the surface of the panel and not simply stuck on top of the panel.  To unify the background with the dimensional sculptural forms of a bas-relief requires depth manipulation and drawing skill.  A sublime example of bas-relief sculpture taken to the highest level is the “Gates of Paradise” by Lorenzo Ghiberti.  This masterpiece has been a great inspiration to me.

Anna's Clay 05

Our model Nicole posed for me in her early 20’s and again later in her life.

Anna's Clay 04

Nicole, later in life.

In my own sculpture work, I’ve used the subjects of Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary several times in bas-relief and in-the-round sculpture.  They represent, for me, a perfect harmony of beauty, strength, and spirituality.  Before I became a mother, Mary Magdalene was my favorite subject.  I was drawn to her passion and faith in Christ.  When I became a mother, I understood the Virgin Mary as an example of love, joy, pain and strength in faith.  As visual artists, Jeff and I express our emotions, experiences, and thoughts through our own medium.  For me, it is sculpture.

My Painting Experience


Many people over the years have known me as a sculptor, and that’s understandable given the fact that so much of my professional career of over twenty five years has been devoted to the creation of sculpture monuments.  Creating secular and sacred sculpture with my wife, Anna, has been a fulfilling and meaningful collaboration.  In between sculpture commissions Anna and I have had the opportunity to create our own individual art works.  For me, it’s a great opportunity to either create my own sculpture or to create my own paintings.  Presently, I’ve been working on a self-portrait in oil.

Painting is my first love.  I didn’t do sculpture until much later and my studies from my high school years through my mid-twenties were devoted to learning oil painting techniques through analyzing the great works of the Old Masters.  Even though I have a BFA degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I’m primarily self-taught.  The directions I wanted to pursue in painting was the complete antithesis of what the art schools were teaching and promoting.  At that time, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, abstract art, pop art, photo-realist painting, and conceptual art reigned supreme.  As a matter of fact, those styles are still quite prevalent today and are still being encouraged and promoted in nearly every major university and art school with accreditation through the world.

My real teachers in painting have been dead for centuries, but the grand works they left behind are very much alive and exude power and speak with timeless eloquence.  After all these years, I can still find inspiration viewing the works of Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Velasquez, Vermeer, Claesz and Chardin.  These great masters have taught me the importance of drawing and observation.  To me, observation from life is essential to the creation of successful figurative painting.  I can’t stress fully enough the importance of working from life as much as possible. Unfortunately, too many figurative painters today have relied too heavily on photography rather than working directly from life.  I can usually tell when a painter has worked extensively from photographs.  The painted images tend to be flat, the application of colors lack nuance, and the contours of the forms have a cut0out hard-edged appearance.  In my opinion, it is no coincidence that the greatest figurative paintings were produced before the invention of photography.  Using photography in figurative painting and sculpture should always be a last resort.  I realize that there are exceptions to every rule and that on certain occasions photographs must be used, especially with posthumous portraiture.  I believe the artist who uses the photographic tool most successfully is the artist whose had the most experience working from life.

A great way to challenge one’s observation and technical skills is to paint a self-portrait.  My self-portrait journey began with a drawing in 1978.  My next self-portraits were in oil paintings in 1985, 1995, and a self-portrait in currently in progress that will be completed in early 2014 (which is above).

All these portraits were done from life while posing in front of a mirror.  Painting or drawing a self-portrait is a very demanding and problematic process.  Not only am I working with a reverse mirror image, but I’m also playing the double role of “artist” and “model” simultaneously.  Another challenge is that I should view myself with honesty and objectivity.  It’s also interesting for me to observe how I’ve changed in mood and aged over the years through the self-portrait experience.  Self-portraiture can be very humbling and it can remind us of our mortality.  But at the same time, It’s reassuring to know that my art work, whether in painting or in sculpture, has given me purpose in life and will eventually survive me as well.

Season of Family

The holiday season is quickly approaching.  It’s a time when friends and family members meet and celebrate.  We are so pleased that our son Adam will be returning home for the holidays for the first time since he left for college.

Adam has obviously been a great part of our lives since his birth and has also played a role in the course of our creative experience.  Not only has he been our son but also has been, for many years,  a model and an “extra” in some of our major sculpture compositions.

Ever since he was an infant we have portrayed Adam  in a drawing portrait, a polychromed terracotta relief sculpture and several sacred art sculpture commissions.  He’s also incorporated in some major secular monument compositions such as our Soldier Field “Tribute to Freedom” bronze bas-relief sculpture in Chicago and in the bas-relief panel of the Vice President Hubert Humphrey monument in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Adam also posed for a portrait bust when he was five years old and again when he was fifteen.  It’s a great experience for us as artists to observe and record, through art, Adam’s growth from infancy through adolescence and beyond.

We hope you enjoy the slide show below and wish you the best of the holiday season this year.

Journey to Korea

Anna just returned from Seoul, Korea.  It was great to see her family and old friends but another reason for traveling to Korea was to visit an ideal location site for our Korean Pieta sculpture that was completed in our studio about a year ago.  Locations we are considering for the sculpture are the Korean Catholic Art Center, the Myeong-dong Cathederal (the first Korean cathedral), Jeol Du San Sacred Place, Nam Yang Sacred Place and the Chon Jin Am site.

Korea Trip 04

The Chou Jin Am site is the place of the first Korean Catholic mass martyrdom as well as the location where Buddhist monks who helped hide Catholic Christians were also executed.  As a consequence their Buddhist temple was burned down by the orders of the Korean government during the Chosen Dynasty.  This particular site is being considered for a new future cathedral which is estimated to be completed in about a century from now.

Catholic Christianity in Korea has a unique history.  Unlike other countries, Catholicism was not spread by foreign missionaries or foreign armies, but rather was spread by local Korean scholars who studied the bible as a source of knowledge from the West.  During the process of scholarship, the Korean people started converting themselves.  Because of political power struggles, Korean Catholic Christians were persecuted and eventually massacred.  Such is usually the fate of a conspicuous minority as scapegoats for political gains.  One of the first Catholic Koreans was a butcher whose social status in Korean society was ranked near the bottom.  He once remarked that his life as a Catholic Christian was like paradise because he was treated with equality and could even share a meal with noble scholars and were able to call one another brothers in faith.

Korea Trip 01

The life size Korean Pieta sculpture took us over a year to complete in its clay stage.  It was based on a small clay sketch Anna made earlier that was inspired by a Michelangelo drawing.  The concept we worked with was unique by showing Mother Mary as a Korean peasant wearing her traditional cotton Han Bok dress.  The Christ in the sculpture composition is portrayed as a Korean image of Christ.  After all, every Christian culture portrays Mary and Christ in their own image and in their own particular way.

Korea Trip 05

The grieving Mother Mary in our sculpture is experiencing great anguish as her son, Christ, rests on her lap.  The Christ, however, looks peaceful and doesn’t appear dead which implies the coming Resurrection.  Our Korean Pieta is still in its completed clay stage and will soon have a sectional mold made as a start for the eventual casting process.  Once the sectional mold is completed the sculpture can be cast in any material including bronze.

Korea Trip 06Of all the sites I saw, I believe that the Myeong-dong Cathedral could be the most likely location for our Korean Pieta sculpture.  If that is realized, it would certainly be a great honor and privilege.  I hope that our sculpture can communicate Mary’s deep love and Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection to the viewer.  I believe sacred art can help people experience devotion and deepen their faith.

Meet Adelor

Adelor 03In September of 2012, we started a new bronze sculpture commission for Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.  It was a sculpture commission unlike any we’ve previously done in our over 25 years of professional experience.  We were given the opportunity to sculpt a life size sculpture of “Adelor” the lion.  This was a dramatic departure from the kind of work we’ve done in the past.  Our artistic career had been focused primarily on rendering the human form in both secular and sacred art sculpture.  We were very excited, to say the least, to be given the honor of creating our first animal sculpture monument for a world class zoo.  We like new challenges and this was most certainly uncharted territory for us.Adelor 01Our goal for this project was not to create just any lion, but rather to create a portrait of a particular lion – Adelor.  We wanted to treat Adelor with the same artistic integrity, dignity, and respect we would give if we sculpted a human being.  Since Adelor had died at the age of eighteen in February of 2012, we had to solely rely on photographs and DVDs provided by the zookeepers and zoo staff.  We also spent many hours studying the anatomy of lions at the zoo and at the Field Museum of Natural History.  Anatomy books and lion documentaries were also extremely helpful.  Our goal was to make this lion sculpture as life-like as possible by studying the bone structure, proportions, muscle structure, and tactile qualities of the skin and mane.  Sculpting Adelor’s mane, alone, was a project with in a project.  The posture of the sculpture is a reclining relaxed pose as Adelor gazes with alertness as if something caught his attention.  The pose gives one the impression that Adelor is just about to get up.  The pose is also designed to encourage interaction and photo ops.

Adelor 04

As the sculpture developed, those involved in evaluating the work were able to appreciate the amount of work it takes to create a bronze public monument.  The whole process is an extremely labor intensive journey from the beginning armature to the final installation.  It is an eye-opening experience  to travel to Shidoni Foundry in Santa Fe, New Mexico and see first hand the final bronze stage of the Adelor sculpture process.  The sculpture took about nine months to complete.

Adelor 02Adelor was the most popular lion in Lincoln Park Zoo history.  He had a magnificent mane, a commanding roar, and he really connected with people.  At the Adelor sculpture dedication on June 22, 2013, volunteers described how they connected with Adelor.  One in particular had been a volunteer at the Zoo for many years and she knew Adelor when he was very young.  They used to play a “high five” game on the glass barrier window almost every morning.  Adelor is still very popular today as his bronze image greets people at the east entrance.  Children stand in line to have their pictures taken at the sculpture.  Perhaps, in the not too distant future, Adelor can have a bronze pride of his own with a lioness and cubs to keep him company.

Veteran’s Day Memorial

Soldier Feild Memorial 4

This Veteran’s Day will mark the tenth anniversary of the unveiling and dedication of our bronze Soldier Field monument, known in Chicago as the “Tribute to Freedom”, and our nine bronze Service medallions on the Soldier Field Water Wall.  The monument measures about twelve feet high and fifteen feet wide.  It is a bronze and granite high bar-relief sculpture panel depicting a scene of men and women in the armed forces with their family members along Chicago’s lakefront.  Our message in the monument is not to glorify war or military adventurism, but rather to honor our veterans’ service and to pay homage to the families waiting for their safe return.  Unlike most military monuments, there are no weapons in the Soldier Field composition.

Soldier Feild Memorial 1Soldier Feild Memorial 2Soldier Feild Memorial 3

Water Wall 1Just directly south of the Soldier Field monument is the Water Wall fountain which features nine bronze service medallions (each three feet in diameter) projecting from the granite surface of the fountain.  The projection of the medallions allows the water to flow behind the sculpture giving the illusion of the medallions floating on the surface.  Depicted in the medallions are the official seals of the branches and organizations of the armed forces: Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force, Merchant Marines, Reserves, National Guard, and POW/MIA.

Water Wall 2Water Wall 3

Much research was involved in creating the Soldier Field monument and Water Wall medallions.  It was crucial that the uniforms, ranks, and decorations were accurate and up to date.  The project took about a year of painstaking work and many long hours of amateur building, clay modeling, mold making and foundry work.  The final results certainly paid off and we were able to meet the deadline and fulfilled all that was required of a project dedicated to the veterans who served and who have sacrificed.

We recently visited our monument and are pleased to report that the City of Chicago has been maintaining it very well over the past decade.  Out-door bronze sculpture needs to be cleaned and waxed at least once a year.  If not properly maintained the elements will eventually turn the bronze green due to the high copper content in the alloy. Our monument is located on Chicago’s Museum Campus area along McFetridge Drive between the north entrance to Soldier Field Stadium and the south entrance of the Field Museum of Natural History.  To view a video interview on the Soldier Field monument click here.

copyright Koh-Varilla Guild 2013 |

Reinventing Ourselves

2.Artst with four muses re

Hello friends,

As you all know, we’ve been artists for over 30 years and love the work we do.  When we put our first website up in the early 90’s we couldn’t have imagined what our journey would look like in the next 20 years.  We’ve had some great successes working on some incredible projects and now we find ourselves faced with a rapidly changing society and culture hooked on social media.  After updating our website we decided to jump into the social media world and start a blog!  We are passionate about our work and want show you what we are working on in our studio.  As artists we work at our craft everyday and a blog is the perfect way to share what we are passionate about.  Our goal, to start, is one post a week.

Speaking of our website, have you seen it yet?  Go to and let us know what you think.  You can leave a comment here or on our Facebook page (click here to go to our Facebook page).

Welcome to our “studio”, we are glad you are here.

Anna and Jeff

copyright Koh-Varilla Guild 2013 |