Stewart is a bronze sculptor who has created more than 30 figures ranging in size from 12 inches to a life-sized Pima basket woman. The Scottsdale resident has lived in Arizona for more than 40 years but didn’t begin making sculptures until 2000, when he was 60 years old.
“I picked up the clay one day and literally discovered I had a talent given to me,” Stewart said. “I had no idea before that.”
Hal owned a horse farm in Wilcox, where he raised show horses and also worked in the construction industry before his sculpting career. He rode a horse in full Nez Perce Indian attire at the first Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix.
This event helped to spark Stewart’s inspiration for Native American sculptures. He also creates cowboy, animal and bird pieces.
Hal thinks of himself not just as an artist but as a historian. He does extensive research for all of his projects before he creates them. He spoke with the Pima tribal leaders in preparation for the basket-woman sculpture and said they appreciated the unusual sight of an artist wanting input to ensure historical accuracy.
Some may think that part of the research process would include drawing out a draft of the sculpture in mind. Not for Stewart.
“Everything is always just in my head,” he said. “I come up with an idea and start building.”
The 6-foot, 310-pound bronze Pima woman who carries a burden basket and walking stick took one year to complete. Stewart created a plastic foam mold before attaching the clay, about 100 pounds of it, to the frame. The immaculate detail is then crafted onto the sculpture.
Hal worked three to six hours a day for about five months to finish the first part of the project. The bronzing process takes another five months at a foundry.
First, a rubber mold is created. Wax is then poured into the mold, which is dipped into a plaster of Paris solution. The wax is melted and molten bronze is poured into the mold. Finally, the plaster of Paris is chipped away and the bronze pieces are welded together.
The next life-sized project for Stewart will be a bronze replica of a Valley doctor and will be featured at a new hospital.
The artist said his passion for sculpting revolves around the relaxing nature of the process.
“Your hands are very busy. They’re right there at your project,” Stewart said, “But it frees your mind, so your mind can literally take off and leave you.”
The basket-woman sculpture, which is the second of three editions, is located at the Arizona Art Alliance gallery at the Pavilions at Talking Stick in Scottsdale.