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On The Road With Joy Brown

Ford Model T in China
The Ford Model-T owned by Joy's grandparents in China

She grew up in a family of missionaries with deep roots in China and Japan. She's a sculptor, a potter, and a muralist living in Kent, Connecticut, a town of 3000 thousand alongside the border with New York. Her work, forged from the fringes of two cultures, is, in great measure, the result of that experience. Joy's monumental bronzes and delicate wood-fired statues represent a peaceful, harmonious universe. Her language is neither Japanese nor English, Brown speaks in bronze and clay, and her voice lives in private collections, parks, and museums.

The Art of Joy Brown is a documentary in progress mirroring her experience on film, or rather the experience of living close to her world for nearly a year, from one firing of her anagama kiln last August to the next sometime before this coming Autumn. The film follows the artist as she creates and "fires" One World, a fifty-feet long mural made of multiple tiles. This comprehensive narration portrays the ongoing dream of Mother Earth, represented in this case by a larger-than-life figure that inspired me to think of Ceres, the ancient Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility, and motherly relationships. The tiles were carefully packed and shipped to Japan in February. In March, I traveled to Amami Oshima, in the South Pacific, to document the mural installation at The Soko Museum. By then, I was already enmeshed in Joy's world.

Montes-Bradley with Shige Morioka
Visiting Shige Morioka, Joy's master in Wakayama

Meanwhile, on the other side of the East China Sea, a group of dedicated artisans cast in bronze several of Joy's designs. Similar figures of colossal proportions had once adorned Broadway and are frequently exhibited in public spaces as well as private collections. These large sculptures exude human qualities and invite us to reflect and kids to play.

As I was waiting for my soul to catch up with the rest of me after the long journey back home, these large sculptures were making their way up the Hudson River to meet Joy. Although cast in China, the sculptures still require Joy to work on the final details, such as applying the patina and, more importantly, carving the opening of the mouth and the eyes so they can see these parts of the world for the first time.

Joy Brown Sculpture
The sculptures arrived in Kingston, NY

The last week in April, I will be documenting one of these well-traveled statues as she's welcomed as part of a public exhibit in Manhattan, and during the first days in May, I will join two different Shanghai bronze ladies (I like to think they are) as they move into the architectural landscaped property of a world-famous art collector in Virginia.

I can say that again: I am entangled in Joy's world, and the documentary The Art of Joy Brown is my excuse.

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