Kansas bronze sculptor Jim Brothers dies at 72

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 | 4:57 p.m. CDT
In this November 1998 photo, Kansas sculptor Jim Brothers stands in his Lawrence, Kan., studio with "Across the Beach," one of several bronze sculptures he has created for National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. Brothers, whose works are part of historical monuments around the country, died Tuesday at his home in Lawrence where he had been in hospice care, according to a funeral director at Warren McElwain Mortuary. He was 72.

KANSAS CITY — A Kansas artist whose bronze sculptures are on display in the nation's capital and at historical monuments around the country has died. He was 72.

Jim Brothers died Tuesday at his home in Lawrence where he had been receiving hospice care, said Audrey Bell, a funeral director at Warren McElwain Mortuary in Lawrence, Kan. Friends and colleagues said he had cancer.

Brothers is best known for two projects — creating a sculpture of Dwight Eisenhower that's on display at the Capitol in Washington and as the chief sculptor for the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., said Paul Dorrell, who represented Brothers and owns the Leopold Gallery in Kansas City. Dorrell said the D-Day contract, which included 12 monumental bronzes and was worth $1.6 million, had a "huge impact on his career."

Dorrell and Brothers met in 1991 after a friend said the artist needed representation.

"He sculpted in this ill-lit, ill-painted, poorly heated chicken shed," Dorrell recalled. "And I saw the raw power of this guy's work and thought to myself, 'What is this guy doing in Lawrence, Kan., and why doesn't anyone know he exists?' And I went to work trying to change that."

Dorrell said he initially built his art business on Brothers' talent. He said Brothers' work was "extremely traditional" and acknowledged that for some people that means "old fashioned."

"I disagree with that," Dorrell said. "I thought Jim was maintaining important sculptural traditions. There is always going to be a need for great sculptural work. There always has been. I saw that Jim had an ability to communicate raw emotion in bronze that I had never encountered in a regional artist before."

One of his first big monuments was one honoring the Civilian Conservation Corps in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. That was followed by a monument of Mark Twain in Hartford, Conn., where Twain lived for about two decades. Along the way, companies, including Boeing, and well known private individuals, including filmmaker Steven Spielberg, the late "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz and the late historian Stephen Ambrose, also acquired pieces from Brothers.

Alan Webster, a friend of Brothers who used to own the Lawrence foundry that cast the artist's work, said Brothers never stopped creating and was directing his assistants on how to finish his last sculpture while he was sick. He said Brothers had a wide circle of friends, played washboard in a string band and obtained a license that allowed him to perform civil weddings — typically garbed in Western attire and carrying a shotgun.

"Art just oozed out of every pore in his body," Webster said. "He just always, always had something going on and many ideas. He just couldn't keep up with his own ideas."


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