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Artist Profile: Keith Christopher

by Karen Reider

About a year ago, I was attending a fund raiser at John Soderberg’s home, where there was the unveiling and sale of several artists’ work. Soderberg was raising money for an orphanage in Mexico with the help of other talented sculptors who were affiliated with him in some way.

Each artist was contributing by donating a percentage of the sale of their limited edition bronze sculptures. The atmosphere was casual and fun and everyone had an opportunity to mix and mingle with the artists in attendance.

One such artist was Keith Christopher. I didn’t get to talk with him much, but the buzz of the crowd spoke enthusiastically about his sculpture to be unveiled that night. He was an apprentice of Soderberg and this was the first piece he had created since his tutelage. It was a work in progress and a dedication to his father.

Each artist spoke of his or her composition with great endearment, and explained its origin. When it came to Christopher - as he slipped the veil from his sculpture, everyone seemed to hold their breath for a moment. What emerged was a life-size bust of a young man holding his infant child. As the man cradles his son, he is looking down into the playful, trusting eyes of his protégé, smiling with a contentment every loving parent knows.

Over the hush, Christopher told a story of the love between a father and son. A love so dear, that it helped to mold the life we were seeing before us. A sensitive, strong, confident, grateful, soft spoken young man, was telling us an even greater story without his words, through the magic of his hands.

Christopher’s father, a blue collar worker, encouraged him to use his heart, hands and hard work to achieve goals in life, then died when Christopher was just 13. By 15, Christopher was on his own, put himself through school, and later attended ASU, pursuing a business degree.

Christopher had been inventing things since he was 13 - even had several patents - and wanted to further his business expertise in college. Finding it almost impossible to get a scholarship to fund his second year, desparately short of funds, Christopher was discouraged and stressed out.

Looking for a way to relax, he resorted to what always made him feel good. . . art. In this case, sculpting.

That’s when he ran into John Soderberg. He had heard that Soderberg developed a special clay that was non-hardening and wanted to purchase some. Soderberg took him out to lunch and a connection was made.

The master sculptor asked Christopher if he wanted to be a professional artist. Christopher told Soderberg that he had always believed he would get to his dream of working as an artist after he retired and had enough money to support his artistic endeavors. Christopher hadn’t actually thought of his art supporting him, and he thought about it constantly as he worked diligently on his sculpture.

A week went by and he brought Soderberg the piece he had been working on. Soderberg offered him an apprenticeship on the spot, and the decision was made right there!

Christopher describes Soderberg as a "very gracious man that is always willing to help others." He is forever grateful for the time Soderberg spent with him and the things he learned from his mentor.

"There is absolutely nothing like hands-on experience," Christopher said. "Success takes a lot of practice and determination."

Determination is something Christopher has an abundance of. He totally loves the work he does - is meticulous about it - focused and adamant about spreading the message all his works portray. . . the human relationship, its values and connections.

Because it is what he knows best, Christopher evokes this with family bonds. Parent and child. Brother and sister. Children with animals. "Whatever it takes to make you glow inside," he smiled. Christopher wants you to look into the face of one of his sculptures and "feel."

I defy any one to do otherwise. His pieces are extraordinary. They show a strength and gentleness that captures your heart.

"First Day Home," the father and son piece I had first seen at Soderberg’s exhibit, is on display at Exposures Gallery in Sedona. It had made such an impression on me in progress that I wondered if it could live up to my expectations. It truly did.

When I was done soaking up every wrinkle and fold of the baby, to the crinkle in the adoring father’s eyes, I was told Christopher had another piece in the gallery.

Pulling myself away, I found "Angel Dance," a heavenly, feminine, blissful angel - arm and wings extended - rotating on a pedestal. While it was quite different from "First Day Home," Christopher’s style and technique are prevalent in this contemporary piece.

He is currently working on the other two angels of his three-part series. A male angel and then a combined male/female are in the plans. These angels will rotate as well.

Christopher is also working on an unnamed, life-sized piece of a five-month old baby with his older brother. The child is taking his first tottering steps, while the loving, protective, older brother gestures for him to move forward. Trust and guidance are exchanged. Adoration and pride are portrayed.

Christopher explained how "First Day Home," while deeply personal, has found its way into several collectors lives. You don’t have to relate to his particular story to like the piece. It seems to invoke deep feelings of our own story, or vision.

Christopher has pieces in over 15 galleries across the U.S., a major feat for such a young artist, just five years after his start with Soderberg.

Christopher works solely in bronze and said most people have no idea what it takes to produce a piece. Customarily working seven days a week, with little time to himself and the wife he adores, he gladly gives it all. His goal is to make people laugh, smile, and feel. And from what I’ve seen, he is doing a magnificent job.

Soderberg also impressed on Christopher the desire to give back to the community and to fellow artists. In an effort to "pass it on," Christopher teaches and works with other artists, helping them hone their skills and learn the tricks of the trade. He wants to impress upon every beginner the importance of following your dream - of knowing you can overcome any obstacle with hard work and perseverance.

He should know, he is a living, working, thriving example

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