Scars and All
Steven Whyte sculpts a striking sort of healing for local cancer survivors.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Inspiration for art often comes from unlikely places. For acclaimed Carmel sculptor Steven Whyte, his most recent came from a 50-year-old stage-three cancer survivor named Deadra Hammond.
Hammond was struck by the inspirational poses and level of authenticity and detail in Whyte’s art. “It occurred to me that modeling for a sculpture could play an important role in my spiritual recovery,” she says. She sent an e-mail to him offering to pose and telling him about her cancer.
“I couldn’t really refuse,” Whyte says. “I could sense this part of her recovery had to do with her body image. As a figurative sculptor, my work focuses on the stories that bodies tell about people. I am fascinated by the way bodies and stance provide testimonials of life experiences and struggles.”
Whyte’s motive for this project was a direct translation of his artistic philosophy: He realized he could do something “to help these women who want to help other women,” by spreading awareness of personal strategies to battle breast cancer, which strikes one in eight women in the United States.
“Our perceptions of our bodies are often worse than the reality,” Whyte says, “I never compromise on that.”
Hammond initially was nervous before she began modeling, but says Whyte “immediately put [her] at ease.”
An issue arose when Hammond asked Whyte to make her stomach on the statue flatter, but he would not. As a result, she says, “This changed me… because I’m OK with my tummy now. This is who I am. The scars which he has captured are my badges of courage.”
Hammond, who had always taken care of herself and had annual mammograms, was diagnosed with a tennis ball-sized tumor in 2006. The finding moved her to take a message to others.
“You have to listen to your body,” she says. “If your doctor doesn’t listen to you, change doctors. If you feel a lump, don’t wait, have a biopsy or lumpectomy. Be assertive about your monthly self-exams.”
Stefani LaRue, who will become Whyte’s second model, was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer two years ago at the age of 30. The commercial real estate marketing officer sounds a warning about her diagnosis. “I didn’t fit the profile of a woman who could have breast cancer,” she says. “I’m not a mother, I’m not a grandmother, so they didn’t test me. But if it could happen to me, it could happen to [anyone].”
LaRue has launched her own mission to spread awareness above and beyond posing for a sculpture—she started an advocacy foundation for women under 40, both for those already diagnosed and those who have not been diagnosed, and speaks at gatherings for young professional women.
“I want to give back, to educate, to help other young women like me,” she says.
Whyte, who moved to Carmel from England in 2003, has worked in clay since he was 17. “My family was in the Air Force and I was continually going to new schools. Art was the only constant.”
Before finishing college, he received a full scholarship to the Sir Henry Doulton School of Sculpture. “The school was next to the Doulton factory and [we] kept factory hours, six days a week, 48 weeks a year, which gave you a tremendous work ethic.”
Whyte is dyslectic and does not read much, which is why he says, “I love to meet people...and I love stories. I know every single person who has a piece of my work, but that will stop with [my] national launch in 2009 at the New York Art Expo.” His 75 or more subjects have included Bob Hope; Trevor Pinnock, conductor of the English Concert and the Brandenberg Ensemble; Lord Weatherill, speaker of the House of Commons; and local notables such as Bert Cutino, owner of The Sardine Factory; Ted Balestreri, president of The Cannery Row Co.; Dr. John L.D. Roberts, founder of Seaside; and Edgar Haber, the late president of Quail Lodge.
Whyte, who tries to do something for charity every year, will donate $30,000 from these sculptures to charity. The sculptures, part of his Six-Inch Square series, will involve four models (he is recruiting another two besides Hammond and LaRue). He wants varied ages and body types to help create a series representative of all women.
The project, he adds, has impacted him in ways he didn’t necessarily anticipate. “I’ve been working directly with the people who will be benefiting from it,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting to be so emotionally affected by the stories of the models.”