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article imageOp-Ed: Holy Crayola! Sculptor’s works a colorful tribute to all things crayon

By Nicholas Forrest     Aug 3, 2008 in Entertainment
Crayons are synonymous with childhood: stick figures of mom and dad, as well as amorphous blobs that serve as dogs, cats, elephants or dragons, depending on the day and color. But Herb Williams makes an artistic name for himself using this medium.
And yet at age 34, Williams spends way more time playing with crayons than the average child does in a lifetime. Williams, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., is a sculptor, and Crayola crayons -- stacked and sliced -- are his medium.
South Side Bethlehem's Monsoon Gallery is showcasing about 25 pieces from his collection through Sept. 3. The central sculpture is a 3- by 4-foot replica of Crayola's ''64 Box,'' complete with a sharpener in the back. Crayola commissioned the work in honor of the 64 box's 50th birthday this month.
Many of the pieces are homages to Williams' favorite artists. A banana for Andy Warhol. A basketball for Jeff Koons. A pear for Paul Cezanne. But his own humor shines through with his ''Artist's Wheel of Fortune'' -- which includes ''sell out'' and ''die unknown'' -- and ''Spin the Bottle'' heart (Seven minutes in heaven, anyone?) Both are interactive, while touching the others is strictly prohibited. They bite, signs say.
The sculptures look as realistic as one could expect from something made from stacked crayons -- like textured cartoons. Oddly enough, it's hard to stroll through the exhibit without leaning in and smelling one of the sculptures.
The scent is enough to bring anyone back. Monsoon owner Ranjeet Pawar said beyond the obvious Lehigh Valley/ Crayola connection -- Crayola owner Binney & Smith is in Easton, as is the Factory attraction -- he was attracted to the innocence and universality of Williams' work.
"It's a genuine way of connecting to people, to give them their first tool ofexpression," he says. "Which, for many of us, was a Crayola crayon."
That's exactly what appealed to Williams about this form of sculpture: its broad audience appeal.
He says it wasn't easy growing up an artist in lower Alabama, which he jokingly refers to as "L.A." At 5, he won his first contest with a cut-paper mosaic family portrait, and from then on, few understood his work, which then mainly consisted of paintings.
In college, he discovered sculpture. It was a natural fit after years of working as a carpenter.
"My family and friends would be like, 'No, he's just crazy,'" Williams says. "And I just got so tired of the crazy looks that I started trying to do things they'd understand."
He used saws to make American flags. He experimented with woods, metals and stones, but nothing inspired him to the core.
Finally, one night in 2001, he gave up. He'd reached the end of his patience and decided he was a failure as an artist. That night, he fell asleep and his muse awoke.
He dreamt that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art did a retrospective of his work, which inexplicably consisted of thousands of iguanas. Iguanas made of clay, wood, fake nails, toothpicks, batteries. At last, Williams came upon one made of crayons.
"I woke right up," he says, "It was awesome."
Since that moment, Williams has specialized in Crayola sculpture.
"It's so satisfying to sculpt with pure color," he says.
It takes about 9 crayons per square inch of space, which can translate to up to 150,000 crayons for a lifesize figure. But before Williams begins to sculpt, he must cut the sticks down to size, which he does by enlistingthe help of his family, cigar cutters and jumbosized pet nail clippers. He then uses drops of epoxy on the wrappers to stack the crayons into various shapes. Most are eventually mounted on wood.
Williams has learned not to leave his sculptures lying around the house. Oneevening, he came home to find his then-2-year-old son, Clay, coloring with a recently finished billiard ball.
"I was upset for a second," Williams says, laughing, "But then I saw [his drawing] and it was just so beautiful."
Now, after seven years of buying boxes upon boxes of crayons, Crayola allows him to buy in bulk: 3,000 crayons a box.
"They're on my speed dial."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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