January 25, 2022

Molding his craft

Crystal Lake man has found niche in commissioning sculptures

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CRYSTAL LAKE – When Erik Blome was a young boy, he would climb on a sculpture his parents had in their living room of a woman cradling her child. There was a hole in the middle and he would go through it, climbing in and out for fun. He was, in a way, inside of the sculpture.

“I think somehow that imprinted on me,” Blome said.

Blome’s father was an artist who did oil paintings and owned a graphic design studio for 45 years. Blome intended to follow in his father’s footsteps when he attended the University of Michigan, double majoring in English and art.

“I wasn’t scared to go be an artist. In fact, I was encouraged to go be one,” Blome said. “I had that advantage, I think. Even when they’re in college and majoring in art, parents are often giving their kids resistance.”

Blome never intended to be a sculptor, but when he got to college and was told that they offer sculpture, something clicked.

“My eyes lit up,” Blome said. “I thought I wanted to be a painter. I was good at drawing. I took graphic design. When I went to sculpture lab, my teacher was really inspiring. He was so passionate and knew so much and he sort of gave that to me. I just liked doing it. I had a talent for it. I just really liked clay and I liked creating things from the inside out.”

After Blome got his bachelor’s degree, he went on to Boston University to obtain a master’s degree in sculpture, after which, it was time to go out into the world and make a living. He sold insurance for less than a month, did some writing for hire and some graphic design.

“I was lucky. I did those jobs for about two years. I was still sculpting the whole time,” Blome said. “Then people started buying my work and I was getting into shows. I started teaching part-time at art centers. I thought, ‘I can make this work in the other direction. I’m going to do the art thing and teaching.’ I got an artist in residency at Deerfield High School. I was 27 or 28. It’s not easy, but I was fortunate. Sculpting isn’t something you can go on Indeed and find work in. You have to have grit. There’s no job waiting for you with a desk.”

Blome’s first commissioned public art piece was a life-size bronze bust of Thurgood Marshall, commissioned by Mayor Daley’s office in 1995 for the Thurgood Marshall Public Library.

By 2000, Blome had quite a few projects under his belt, including a 9½-foot bronze figure of Martin Luther King Jr. for the YWCA of Greater Milwaukee, six life-size bronze hockey players for the United Center in Chicago commemorating the Chicago Blackhawks 75th anniversary, and a life-size bronze sculpture of Rosa Parks, seated on a bus seat for the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, Alabama.

He then was commissioned two more times for replicas to be made. Blome was in his 30s and his work was starting to be on display all over the country. He was making it.

Blome did a stint in San Francisco, teaching at the Academy of Art downtown, as well as a year in Egypt teaching on a Fulbright program teaching students how to do bronze casting at Helwan University in Cairo. By 2011, Blome was back in Illinois and living in Crystal Lake with his wife, Charlotte, and his two sons, Noah and Max.

“It was to the point where I didn’t have to advertise anymore. People were just calling me,” Blome said.

Blome, now 52, works out of his studio in Woodstock. He is kept very busy.

“Now as an artist, I don’t have time to paint or do what I want to do,” Blome said. “I’m doing all of this work for other people. That’s why I kept my foot in teaching, because I don’t want to just be a commercial project guy. I put a lot into these pieces. It can be hard to let them go.”

Blome’s current project is a 130% life-size bronze sculpture of John B. Stetson for Stetson University in DeLand, Florida.

The sculpture will greet visitors at the campus’ main entrance, his Stetson cowboy hat tipped to say “hello.” The unveiling of the sculpture is scheduled for October.

Blome has hopes of fitting in passion projects in between his commissioned works, but one thing is for sure, he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon, for sculpting is at his center.

“You’re not creating illusions, you’re creating a real object. You start to find purpose in making clay objects and when people like them, it’s great that they appreciate what you spent hours doing. People attach a lot of meaning to artwork. I like my hands in clay more than anything else.”

For information and photos of Erik Blome's work, visit www.erikblome.com.