Norman Mansson's bronze sculptures of children have become some of the most recognizable artwork in Beaufort. "Helping Hands," depicting two girls at a water fountain, is placed in front of the Beaufort library. "Calling Home," showing two boys placing a pay phone call, is a fixture in the Old Bay Marketplace entrance.
A third piece featuring a girl holding onto her hat, called "Holding On," has been installed on the porch of the Elliott House, the home of the Beaufort Art Association.
Mansson, a Seabrook resident, explains how he got into making bronze sculptures of little ones.
Question. How did this latest project come about?
Answer. I got a call asking me if I had any sculpture that I was willing to exhibit that might be shown outside. I had one piece that I could provide. That piece I had originally done when I was in Wyoming. Initially, it was more of a girl's cowboy hat, but it works well as a sun hat. It makes sense because there always seems to be a breeze from the water in that location.
Q. When did you start bronze sculpture?
A. I'm 65 and I turned to bronze sculpture in 1980. Prior to that I was doing large abstract sculpture out of different media. A friend in Connecticut had asked me to do a piece for their rose garden or swimming pool. For the pool I came up with a sketch of a child dumping a bucket of water over his head. And they liked that. I hadn't done a large piece of a person before. After I did that piece I never really went back to abstract. More people relate to it -- children, parents, grandparents. They're usually whimsical pieces that bring a smile to your face.
Q. How long does it take for you to complete a piece?
A. It's an avocation for me so I don't do it full time. Generally the process is six or seven months. There have been some situations where I've done a portrait sculpture of a child that when I finished the child had aged enough that I'd have to alter the sculpture (laughs).
Q. Were you surprised that your sculpture had caught on, especially in Beaufort?
A. I was lucky early on. A large portion of my activity was through a mall developer in Youngstown, Ohio. They'd often include some of my sculpture in a mall. I had done several commissions for them. One of those pieces is the piece that's now at the library. I had intended it to be operational, so the public could go get a drink at the water fountain. But the developer thought they could get sued if kids got the water on the floor and somebody fell on it. So I just used a piece of polished stainless (steel) to simulate water bubbling out of the fountain. That mall was in Illinois. They later contacted me and said they decided to rent the floor space out to kiosks. They put the sculpture in storage. I made an effort to sell it on their behalf. So I picked it up and now it's at the library on loan.