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How Much “Hands-On” Must Qualify for Authorship? Pt. 3

michael binkley sculptor sculpture maui hawaii breadfruit leaf public art

I have been writing about how much “hands-on” work must be done for an artist to claim full authorship of a sculpture (see Pt. 1 and Pt. 2).

In 2006, I received a commission for a public art sculpture for the Napili Kai Beach Resort on the island of Maui, Hawaii, USA. In the conception stage, I asked my patron if she was comfortable with another party (an artigiano) roughing out the sculpture, and my finishing it. She was very clear that she wanted me to execute the entire sculpture and felt that in her mind, she could not consider it my sculpture if someone else’s hand was involved – even for roughing out.

I explained the history and accepted practices of the marble sculpture industry to her, where for centuries, artists have conceived sculptures in a medium such as clay or plaster and then have craftsmen copy the idea into marble. The resulting sculpture is always credited to the artist, even if they have not actually carved the stone. As she was only familiar with me as a direct stone sculptor, she assumed that all sculptors in history worked as I did. She was surprised to learn that Bernini and Canova created their ideas in clay and that aritgiani in marble studios actually carved the stone sculptures.

She was adamant she still wished my hands to be the only ones involved in the project. It is interesting that this patron was comfortable with the process of a bronze artist conceiving an idea in clay and having a foundry cast the final bronze without the artist working on the metal version – yet was uncomfortable with me not carving the whole of her project.

I was only too happy to comply and as a bonus, she treated Michelle and I to a vacation at the Resort for the installation and unveiling ceremony of the finished sculpture.