ROXBURY — Sterett-Gittings Kelsey and her twin sister, Easy, were raised in the countryside of Glencoe, Maryland, where she used river clay from a nearby stream to create pots and plates. When the family moved to Greenwich, at the age of seven she fell in love with the world of ballet after meeting the world-class ballerina Katharine Phillips Rutger, who showed her a collection of diminutive porcelain dancers, as well as her many ballet costumes.
Sterett and her sister also formed an equestrian love and expertise, competing in the National Horse Show until they went to college. The twins took ballet lessons together, and for Sterett, it also segued into a life-long fascination with controlled and graceful movement. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design where an intense anatomy class, under Michael B. Mazur, left a lasting impression. She studied sculpture under John Bozarth and Thomas Morin, and in 1962 Morin’s class built the school’s first furnace for metal casting.
She said, “From the moment I was hooked on bronze in 1962, it has been my quest to capture the essence of dance in that medium. Fifty years and nearly 300 original sculptures later, the challenge remains as strong as ever: I strive to imbue each figure with an independent spirit, implied movements, and an imagined soul while being faithful to the choreographic tenets and spirit of ballet.”
She noted that in that era, abstract art ruled, and gallery owners knew that customers would make a decision to buy within 4-12 seconds. By the late 1960s, she said, “100 percent of high-end galleries would only sell artworks after the artist had died.”
After graduating from RISD, she married Bowie Duncan and their two children, “Gitty” and McCay, were born. Her infant daughter nearly died from Salmonella D meningitis, and after fighting for a year to bring the baby back to health, she returned to sculpture more determined and impassioned than ever, noting “I doubt that I could have become a sculptor had it not been for Salmonella D. All of my education would not have been used in any meaningful way. Without having learned a new work ethic I call ‘freedom of discipline’ these works would never have been produced.”
She honed her mastery of the technical process of creating a bronze artwork, from clay to molds, casting, finishing, and patination, and in 1973, she tackled a three-year commission for Royal Copenhagen of Denmark for a series of sculptures expressing figural movements. She began with porcelain figurines, followed by dance figures cast in bronze, and finally she created limited editions in bronze, depicting sports figures, consulting with Olympic stars including cross-country skier Bill Koch and skater Dorothy Hamill.
A year later, in 1974, she took on a commission from Bjorn Kjellstrom, president of the Olympic Committee, for a nude male runner. She made two copies of the bronze life-size figure, one going to Stockholm and another to a home in Greenwich. When the home sold, the new owners returned the statue, which now is featured in her outdoor sculpture garden.
One of her statues, The Angel of Freedom, has special meaning not only because of the tragedy of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing where 259 people on Pam Am Flight 103 and 11 on the ground were killed, but one of those who died was her neighbor. As children and young students were victims, she was inspired to create the statue as an innocent child.
All of her sculptures are registered bronze and the details on the statuary are beyond compare in delicacy. Her foundry is Polich-Tallix, UAP in Rock Cavern, N.Y., which also makes the Oscar statuettes.
Steritt admitted that the current climate of hesitance to leave home has impacted opening her Roxbury Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, but she was recently encouraged by a new brewery nearly within sight of her property, that is attracting many visitors. She is also working on the possibility of holding a future event with another renowned sculptor.
For more information call 860-350-4938, or visit www.BronzeDanceSculpture.com, www.KelseySculpture.com and Kelsey@BronzeDanceSculpture. Roxbury Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden is located at 154 Baker Road (Rte 67), in Roxbury.