Richard Arnold has seemingly lived as many lives as a cat. The Carbondale-based sculptor, who grew up in San Diego, has worked as a diver for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, taught skiing for Stein Eriksen, and served in the Vietnam War. He also ran a successful high-end residential construction business in the Roaring Fork Valley, taught flying, and founded the region’s first charter air company, ultimately becoming the airport manager in Aspen and then Telluride. But his path didn’t stop there. At age 50, urged by his wife, Arnold decided to pursue another life-long dream: art.
“I’ve always been interested in sculpting,” he says. “It’s mechanical, and I like three-dimensional more than painting. My instructors encouraged me and said the more you touch the clay, the better you’ll be.”
Today Arnold works on commission—coaxing soul out of clay, he says—in his home studio at the Ranch at Roaring Fork. His sculptures and bas-relief works fetch upward of $70,000. He’s most drawn to creating memorial sculptures of Vietnam veterans, all of which begin with actual vets whom he uses as models. That base in reality gives the sculptures their power.
“What I’m looking for is not the anatomy but the gesture,” says Arnold. “That’s communication, and I want the gesture to be right.”
The initial process of creating a bronze sculpture is more mechanical than artistic, as Arnold begins by building a rebar stick figure. Afterward, he surrounds it with a dense layer of foam and uses heated and oiled clay to craft the sculpture. He then drives the model to a foundry in Utah, where it’s cast in pieces and finally reassembled.
The process doesn’t always end there. Arnold personally delivered bronze surf-
contest awards to Costa Rica so that he could surf the same break, delivered a surfer statue to San Diego in the back of his van (outfitted to look like the interior of a sailboat, because he also sails), and helped bring one of the first sculptures of an African American veteran to a region of Louisiana.
His range of work also includes pieces like an eagle that’s currently displayed on Third Street in Carbondale, a girl waiting for the school bus in Telluride, and parents welcoming their soldier home at the Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park in Fruita.
At 77, Arnold seems to have finally settled into the life and career that suit him best. “Someone said, ‘Well, aren’t you going to retire?’” he says. “I have no intention of stopping. I’ve got skiing to do and more
commissions coming up.”