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About the Artist

 Have you hugged a vulture today?

Have you hugged a vulture today?

 The real deal - Vicki demonstrates her expert lizard-catching skills with an actual (non-bronze) horned lizard!

The real deal - Vicki demonstrates her expert lizard-catching skills with an actual (non-bronze) horned lizard!

 Life-size?

Life-size?

 Vicki handles a newly-banded Swainson's hawk chick while visiting her biologist daughter at work

Vicki handles a newly-banded Swainson's hawk chick while visiting her biologist daughter at work

 Award-winning

Award-winning

 Vicki Banks and her husband Paul Shardlow at the 2017 Sun Valley Arts and Crafts Festival

Vicki Banks and her husband Paul Shardlow at the 2017 Sun Valley Arts and Crafts Festival

You may not think of vultures as creatures of elegant beauty, but Vicki Banks does.  It is her ability to see character and charm in some of the most unconventional subjects that sets this sculptor apart.

IT’S ONLY NATURAL

A lover of animals from an early age, Vicki spent many of her childhood afternoons developing expert lizard-catching abilities. Hold her bronze horned lizard in your palm and feel something of that youthful curiosity, the satisfaction at having caught your quarry. That little girl’s enthusiasm for the wild world did not dwindle as she grew older; instead it expanded to include not just the creatures in her backyard, but those of such far-off locales as the rainforests of South America, the Serengeti of Africa, and the islands of the Galapagos. Indeed, she continues to discover and develop new passions: crows and ravens, once a new addition to her repertoire, quickly seemed to flock to her booth en masse where they now appear to chatter animatedly amongst themselves.

AN ANIMATED LIFE

This lifelike quality of her work is no accident: after twenty years in the animation industry, Vicki really knows how to bring a character to life in subtle ways. For her, the sculpture process is more about capturing a gesture than detailing every last feather or scale. Though they are cast in a medium as permanent as bronze, her sculptures appear far from static. She imbues her work, too, with an animator’s sense of humor, one honed at—among other places—Walt Disney Studios, DreamWorks, and Warner Brothers. You can see it in the smiles that grace the faces of so many of her subjects; in the whimsy of a flying pig or a bossy baboon with her hands on her hips; and, indeed, in the placement of a roadrunner atop antique truck horns, with the title “Beep! Beep!” You might be tempted to glance around for a coyote holding some ACME-brand dynamite in his paws. Originally trained as a sculptor, Vicki returned to her first love and now exhibits in art shows and galleries throughout the United States.

FROM WAX TO BRONZE

All of Vicki’s sculptures, with the exception of a few small pewter pieces, are cast in bronze. The entire process is labor intensive and spans several stages. Every sculpture begins with an idea. Vicki spends time sketching—from live models or video footage—her subjects, getting a feel for their personalities, the way they move. The sculpting process itself starts with wax (though you could use almost anything: clay, wood, even fruits and vegetables!) Once Vicki has a design in mind, she will frequently construct an armature out of wire in the general shape and pose of the sculpture-to-be. Onto the armature, she will begin to build warmed, soft, dark brown wax—teasing life out of the malleable material. Once she is satisfied with her creation, the next step is making a silicone mold, from which all future copies of the sculpture can be made.  From this silicone mold, a duplicate of the original sculpture is made, again in wax. This wax copy is coated in liquid sand and cooked until a ceramic shell is formed, with a small opening in the bottom for the wax to melt out. Into this ceramic shell, now, molten bronze is poured. Once the bronze has cooled and hardened, the shell is broken off. The process is known as the “lost wax technique.” Raw bronze is a pale shiny material; to achieve the colors you see around her booth—the burnt oranges and reds on the marine iguana, the inky black of the crows—Vicki applies chemical patinas in various combinations that react with the metal in different ways.

CALL IT “UP-CYCLING”

Like the crows she loves to sculpt—notorious for collecting shiny trinkets—Vicki is a collector of unique and unusual objects that catch her fancy. These found pieces she then incorporates into her art: a marine iguana luxuriates on a carved stone wheel from India; the wheel of an old coffee grinder becomes the perfect perch for a curious crow; a fence post from a ranch in Mexico provides the perfect vantage point for a sunning turkey vulture. You could call it “up-cycling”: taking something old or discarded, and giving it new value, new life.  Because of this, every piece that Vicki creates is truly one-of-a-kind.

Vicki lives with her husband and fellow artist, Paul Shardlow, in Los Angeles, California and Bath, Maine, in homes filled with animals, both real and bronze. 

 Vicki hard at work on one of her two harpy eagle sculptures

Vicki hard at work on one of her two harpy eagle sculptures

 Meeting a cheetah behind-the-scenes at a zoo

Meeting a cheetah behind-the-scenes at a zoo