Searching for my Former Self in the Southwest

Bronze Sculpture

Twenty years ago while I was a student in Colorado I heard that a local sculptor was was looking for nude models. He was an established bronze artist looking for women who wouldn’t mind being cast in plaster for $100 an hour. In a town where a two bedroom apartment rented out at $425 a month this was an incredible opportunity. I called him, gave him my measurements and was delighted when he gave me instructions and hired me for a few hours.

The sculptor was David Dirrim, and his workspace was a huge warehouse in the wrong part of town (as warehouses tend to be). I showed up and was surprised by David, he looked more like a welder than an artist. The artists I knew were thin but fit men who wore mismatched socks and crumpled shirts. Dave was tall and strong and, perhaps because of the locale, looked decidedly blue collar.

I was to pose with a twist in my torso so Dave had built a place for me to stand where I could grip a bar above my head. I’d be covered in plaster for as long as it took for it to dry, the room was warm so hopefully the plaster would dry quickly.

I felt less naked in that artist’s warehouse than I did in a bikini on the beach. We found the perfect position for the bronze, marked where my hands and feet needed to be and he proceeded to cover the front of me in plaster from chin to knee. Standing still, breathing shallowly and holding a pose was more difficult than I’d imagined. Although there was ample heat I felt a chill go through me just before the plaster hardened and began to separate from my body. We breathe through our skin more than we could ever imagine.

I rested a few moments while he made sure that the cast would work, took some sips of water and prepared for the back. Dave explained to me that our spines release a lot of heat and that sometimes people don’t feel well with their entire back covered. He asked me to let him know if I thought I might pass out. I assured him I would let him know if I felt weak.

The plaster on my back felt heavier and hotter than the plaster on my front. It went on wet and cold and almost immediately began to warm but not harden. Dave stood behind me and we talked about the process, about his work and about standing absolutely still even when my arms tingled and shook. I felt cold again and then a wave of nausea, I opened my mouth to speak so I could tell Dave that I was worried about fainting and I could hear the words in my head but they didn’t leave my lips.

Strong arms were holding me ever so gently and peeling the cast from my shoulders. I slipped to the ground and lost consciousness but there wasn’t a single crack in the plaster. Both Dave and I were pleased.

Many months later Dave called to let me know he’d cast me in bronze and if I wanted to see it I should feel free to stop by the studio. I remember walking in the doors that day and looking at my bronze. I was bigger and smaller than I’d thought I was. I touched the torso and wondered aloud if it was really me. He explained that it was and I felt strange. I had no real sense of my own size and I didn’t realize that I was beautiful. I knew I was sexy in the way that every young woman is, but I didn’t know that my body was actually beautiful.

I felt like a thief for taking Dave’s money. He’d given me what a thousand hours of therapy could offer no one. He allowed me to see myself as the world sees me. Kindly.

This weekend as I lay in bed with my stomach gurgling as food poisoning stole my day I thought of just one thing. Get on the scale so you can see how much weight you lose. Which is not okay. The reality is that 20 years and a full lifetime later I’m close to the same size. True my breasts require a sturdier bra and there is a small but definite crease on my bottom that hadn’t been there before. It’s unlikely that my stomach will ever be as flat as a board, but it wasn’t flat when I was 22. It was firm, but not flat, because that’s simply not the body I was meant to have. I wasn’t fat, in the absence of illness or pregnancy I’ve never been truly fat. I’ve just been a woman.

I’m searching for that bronze. Five of them were made and sold in the Southwest and I’m determined to find one and own it.


15 thoughts on “Searching for my Former Self in the Southwest”

  1. What a great story. I hope you find one someone will be willing to sell you. I was thin as a bone when I was in my early twenties. Later, I got the genetic pear shape of all the Slavic women on my mother’s side. If I could go back and talk to my 20 year old self I’d say “don’t take it for granted”. Exercise and good nutrition are important. Simple, I know, but I didn’t really get that lesson until I was in my 40’s.

  2. I hope you find it. That would be so awesome to have in your living room. Great story. You seem so much more artsy and dangerous to me now. I’m intrigued.

    I’m trying to learn how to paint.  Wanna come over and hang out naked?

  3. I love it! I finally understand the saying that youth is wasted on the young. I remember being in my 20;s an always being so critical of myself and my body. But I’ve seen pictures and now in retrospect, I can appreciate the beauty of the body I had then. God how I wish I had taken more photos:) And how I wish ,even with all my hours of therapy,that I could learn to live and see the beauty in myself in real time.I’m learning. YOU HAVE to get that bronze. How amazing would that be? Good luck finding it. And P.S. SOrry about the food poisoning. Hope you are all better, mama!

  4. This is a wonderful post. I know you will find it! Just think, one day we will look at pictures of ourselves NOW and think the same thing…

  5. OMG Jessica – I did the same thing when I was in college (for about $75 I think). My friend’s fiance’ was the artist. I too did not fell naked, just nude (the difference being there is no feeling of shame in nudity) and I was surprised when I almost passed out. My artist did not warn me. I never did see my sculpture though. :( I think your body was (and is) better than mine (even though I was the FORMER owner of a flat stomach pre-kids/pre-40!) And I know exactly what you mean about food poisoning and the scale. Shit – why do we still continue to do that to ourselves. We are old enough and smart enough to know better!

  6. What an experience! I hope you find it. Sounds like such a dream type experience, as if it hadn’t happened or would only happen in some weird dream. I didn’t even know people did this!

  7. Amazing post, Jessica.  It sounds like it was a totally magical and transforming experience for you!  Hope you find the bronze (and show it to us!)

  8. Jessica,
    I am in Arizona on a business trip and seeking the very same thing. I too modeled for David many years ago and always remembered he said he had the majority of them in Scottsdale at a gallery. I have found such a gallery and intend to call while I am here. If I find it where his work is now I will post again.

  9. Jessica, what a great story! David Dirrim is my cousin and I was googling his name because his father (my uncle) recently passed away. I haven’t seen David in many years and wondered what he’s been up to. I was a little scared to read it, fearing it would turn ugly, but it is beautifully written. Please update and let us know if you’ve found your bronze!


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