Sculptor Dennis Smith captures real life — including heartaches — in bronze

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When he modified his original sculpture design for the LDS Provo City Center Temple, Dennis Smith modernized the family scene by making the mom’s hair longer and adjusting hemlines and sleeves.

 

Alpine sculptor Dennis Smith has no shortage of stories to tell — and they are best told through his art. One of the most emotional stories is captured in his sculpture, “In The Family Circle.”

Today, locals can view the life-size bronze statue on the north side of the  Provo City Center LDS Temple, but its origins can be traced back to 1976 in Nauvoo. Dennis was commissioned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to create a collection of sculptures for the Monument to Women Memorial Garden. Dennis planned to create a piece that depicted a couple and their daughter who was taking her first steps. He asked a couple in his ward, Keith and Teri Wilson, to be his models. The couple’s daughter Melissa was only a newborn at the time, but they figured she would be walking by the time he was working on the life-size sculpture. Dennis and the couple got to work, but as the year progressed, Keith and Teri noticed Melissa was missing developmental milestones. They eventually learned she had Cerebral Palsy.

“Melissa became the core of that entire family’s life,” Dennis says. “She became the focus of everything.”

The sculpture took on a new meaning for Dennis, and to him the title will always be “Melissa Walks.”

“I have the belief that somewhere beyond this life, Melissa walks,” he says.

Art equals energy for Dennis, age 77.

He shows up day in and day out to work on commissioned pieces and passion projects at his studio inside the Alpine Art Center.

“My body is getting old, but the ideas in my head are still swirling,” he says. “When I come here, it energizes me — but the thought of something simple like taking out the garbage cans exhausts me.”

Dennis is also energized by the camaraderie of the artists with whom he shares his workspace, such as Kraig Varner, Susan Church, Scott Streadbeck and Steve Streadbeck.

“We can have an interplay and give each other feedback,” Dennis says. “Just the other day Kraig told me my figure’s head was getting too big. Sometimes you get too close to things and you need to step back and get some perspective.”

One of the ways Dennis gets perspective is to work on multiple projects at once and switch between them. In his later years, he has taken up painting.

“Sculpture is a clean, pure, statement — like a poem,” Dennis says. “Painting is more like a novel with different characters and context.”

Much of the context and setting of Dennis’ art is found in the landscapes of the hometown he loves so dearly.

“I’ve been all over the world and I always come back here,” he says. “Alpine is the central root of where I begin and how I see the world. It always will be.”

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Kate Lehnhof Nash first joined Bennett Communications as a summer intern in 2009. Now, as an associate editor, she writes for magazines including Utah Valley Magazine, Utah Valley Bride and Prosper. Kate lives in Springville with her husband Steve and enjoys running, reading, sushi and her french bulldog, Chief.

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