Searching for my Former Self in the Southwest

06.6.11

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.