by Karen Reider
a year ago, I was attending a fund raiser at John Soderbergs
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
didnt 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.
Christophers 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.
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.
Thats 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 hadnt 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
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 Soderbergs 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 fathers
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," Christophers
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 dont 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 Ive 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,