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Home / Articles / Arts / Arts Valve /  The Depths of Shell
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Hare Apparent: Worthington and one of his multipurpose creations.
Enrique Limón

The Depths of Shell

One artist leads unconventional path to the finish line

May 14, 2013, 12:00 am

If Aesop’s fables taught us anything, it’s that life is a journey, not a race. This moral rings especially true for Steve Worthington.

A storyboard artist by trade, the UK native started sculpting after his arrival in Santa Fe in 2005.

He cites nature, the great French animalier Antoine-Louis Barye and the Japanese Meiji period as clear influences. Later in his practice, a dash of Alexandre Dumas would also be apparent.

“I’d always had an interest in sculpture,” Worthington tells SFR. “Having seen stuff in all these hundreds of galleries everywhere gave me the kick up the backside to give it a go.”

Bronze—his medium of choice—costs a pretty penny, he’d soon find out.

“Anytime you want to start making things in bronze, you’ve got to swallow hard and take a deep breath, because it’s gonna set you back a bit,” he says. “If you don’t sell anything, you’ve got to have made it because you love it, because you might be staring at it for a long time.”

So, Worthington got creative and launched a campaign on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to get his latest project, a collection of red-eared slider/map turtle hybrids with a hidden talent.

“The thing that’s cool about Kickstarter, in particular, is that you can get yourself funded for your upfront costs,” he explains. “If you can get it out there in this prototype stage and get people in pledging to preorder stuff, it’s great: They get a deal and they also help an artist to get his work out there.”

He calls the move a vouch of confidence.

“It’s great, because A) People are enjoying what you’re doing, and B) You know how much they’re enjoying what you’re doing.” 

Worthington adds that the barometer helps him decide how many specimens should be cast in a series.

As far as the surprise, it happened accidentally when, after the founding process, the artist noticed a hole left in the turtle’s undercarriage that would later need to be welded and resculpted to “give it that turtley look.”

A little tweaking later, the fine-art bottle opener was born.

Connecting one and two came organically. “I like beer, and I get a kick out of gadgets,” he says. “They’re stealth turtles: They’ve got secrets and a special purpose, like a James Bond of the chelonian world.”

After launching a query on his website, Worthington baptized the testudinal trio with the names Athos, Porthos and Aramis.

“They’re inseparable drinking buddies,” he jokes. “The hole fits a bottle cap nicely,” Worthington remarks, picking up Aramis.

The road to “one for all, all for [a cold] one” came after Worthington first studied live mice. “The reason I started with mice was that I wanted to study them close-up, and I could keep them at home in a large, glass aquarium,” he says. “I just had them running about the place and started thinking, ‘What’s next?’”

Next came toads, and later, turtles.

Given the confines of his process, there are no immediate plans for a rhino. “I actually made an elephant, which really didn’t really fit in my tank,” he says with a chuckle. “I finally got away from the idea of ‘I have to have it in the house to be able to make it.’”

The idea that offering his art online could devalue it, he says, never crossed his mind. (Folks donating $100 to the project secured one turtle, while $270 or more got all three.)

“I like beer and I like turtles and I like bronzes, so for me, it’s an amalgamation of three things that I really like, you know?” he says. “It’s certainly the future of art if you’re planning on making something expensive and you don’t have a bottomless pit of cash.”

He’s grateful to Manitou Galleries, which represents him, for allowing him to undertake the adventure and adds that, for most, breaching the gap between exclusive representation and side ventures like this can be “an uncomfortable arrangement.”

“Galleries have to pay for a space to exist and all that kind of stuff,” he points out. “You really have to build some trust with your gallery so they can trust you not to undercut them or sell to local people when you can be sending them over here.”

Worthington’s gamble paid off. On Saturday, May 11, the project “Bronze Turtle Beer Bottle Openers: Athos, Porthos & Aramis,” successfully closed after exceeding its goal by 557 percent.

“I knew what I needed to get [to be] up and running—and hey, anything on top of that is just great. It’s just great feedback from people [saying] that they like what you do,” he says. “You can’t help loving that.”

 

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