UNCA almunus remembered in exhibition

Kye Johnson
A&F Staff Writer
[email protected] 
The first time James Spratt encountered sculpture he was only three years old. His parents gave him a set of plastic molds to use with modeling clay, but he soon tossed them aside, claiming he did not need them.
“He proceeded to make a little lion out of the clay himself just on his own and it looked more like a real lion then the little toy mold thing that they gave him,” said Aaron Spratt, James’ son. “When he was three years old he was pretty much on his way to being a sculptor at that point.”
Carrie Tomberlin, UNC Asheville’s gallery director joined Aaron in sculpting a memorial exhibition of James’ art in Owen Hall. James lost his battle with cancer in 2016.
          Graduating from UNC Asheville in 1978, James receiving a BFA after serving in the Navy.
“We thought that, you know especially it being a memorial exhibition that it would be a good thing to do, and his father was working in a medium (bronze) that not many of our students do,” Tomberlin said.
Tomberlin said the gallery takes open calls for exhibition proposals and then the gallery committee decide what they choose to exhibit.
“We have a committee so that it is an equitable process, we meet once a semester so we can plot out the exhibitions were going to do for future semesters,” Tomberlin said. “We look at the exhibition proposals, we also try to get alumni to exhibit on campus just to show our current students what you can do with a degree in art.”
The committee consists of art department faculty, including chair Leisa Rundquist, Jackson Martin, head of sculpture work, and Tamie Beldue, head of drawing.
Tomberlin said Aaron approached UNCA about putting on a memorial exhibition for his father.
Aaron said James knew art and sculpture were his calling and his life. James was really proud of his monument pieces, his son said.
Aaron said during James’ time at the Charles George Veterans Affairs Medical Hospital he heard the story of George, a Cherokee warrior who sacrificed his life in battle in the Korean War to save his friends and was moved to create a sculpture in his honor.
“The Cherokee tribe was able to raise the money very quickly to have this statue produced,” Aaron said. “My dad spent about six months creating this sculpture with the help of his assistant.”
Aaron said the statue was unveiled the day his father passed. With his dad’s help the Cherokee people were able to see George’s sculpture erected, wearing all the medals he never had a chance to wear when he was in the Army, giving him the recognition he deserved.
“My dad was really proud of that, he kind of went out in a blaze of glory. It’s kind of crazy, he actually died at the very minute he was originally scheduled to speak,” Aaron said.
Aaron said he hopes the visitors get enjoyment from the exhibition but also understand how prolific an artist his father was.
“He was just this interesting and colorful and creative — just this brilliant creator —  and I hope they get a sense of that from seeing some of his work,” Aaron said.
Aaron said James made everything from bronze sculptures to full-sized fiberglass sailing ships.
“He made me an X-wing fighter when I was about four years old for Christmas one year, I actually sat in it; it had a little targeting computer, and a motor, he made me a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car. He could make pretty much anything that he put his mind to,” Aaron said. “I hope people get a sense of that, just that prodigious mind that he had from seeing just a small sampling of his work.”
Tomberlin said she hopes students gain an appreciation for James’ sculptures and acknowledge his ability to render, seeing his proficiency within the medium and the application of his degree.
“He’s worked on sculpture his whole life and done a lot of different things with it, so I think he is a good role model for our students. It wasn’t a technique he learned in school, as I understand it, so he was able to apply what he learned and then build on that skill set,” Tomberlin said.
Tomberlin said James predominantly worked in bronze to cast his sculptures, a medium that not a lot of students work in since it’s very time consuming and labor intensive.
“Bronze sculpture tends to be more traditional,” Tomberlin said.  “We teach some traditional processes, but some contemporary ones as well.”
Aaron said his father really enjoyed working in bronze to create everything from busts to the life-like animal sculptures he was known for.
“He liked the strength and the permanence of bronze, he said that one thousand years from now when there is just crumbling reminisce of the society that we’re living in, his bronze sculptures could still be intact and in one piece,” Aaron said.
Tomberlin said Aaron and his mother are selecting the artwork to be featured in the memorial exhibition. A lot of James’ pieces are with collectors, so the art is being selected based on availability.
“One thing we try to do for exhibitions is to give the artist some freedom, we tend not to curate their exhibitions,” Tomberlin said. “This is a little unusual because the artist himself is not putting together the exhibition, but I think that’s pretty meaningful too, that his son wants to make sure he is honored and remembered.”
Gabriella Santander, a senior art student, said she makes art because she wants to share the way she sees the world with other people and UNCA’s art program gives her that ability.
Santander said she hopes to find the kind of success James found on the other side of her degree.
“Art connects us, art connects all of us, no matter how we feel or what we look like or our opinions, art has the ability to connect us all as humans and I think in remembering that and remembering art that’s made, we celebrate ourselves,” Santander said.
The James Spratt Memorial Exhibition will take place from Feb. 26 through March 23. A reception will be held March 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. in Owen Hall’s second floor gallery.