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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

The Heart in the Art

"He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. However, he who works with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist."

St. Francis of Assisi. Entering the world of sculptor Matt Werner, you instantly realize you are in the realm of an individual that places keen observation and deep feeling into each of his sensitively rendered sculptures. The first time meeting Matt, he was carrying two old pink pillowcases containing an object with him. As he set the pillowcases on the chair, he stated, "These are for later if appropriate." He began the conservation with, "I don't have an Arts degree, sculpting in wood is my encore career. My technique adds little to what my art is about."

Matt's inspiration comes to him through how people connect with his sculptures. An example of this is witnessed during his most recent exhibit with the Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour held in the north valley. He displayed a room full of sculptures and then stepped back to observe how people responded to them. Matt found, "Sometimes they laughed hilariously and ran off to find a friend to share their experience. Other times they dropped their heads and sobbed." Matt explains, "During any given day, I see a range of emotions; that's when I know I have been successful in creating art people connect with viscerally; that's my mission."

During the process, Matt often asks if the individual has a favorite piece and if they would share why. The responses are remarkably diverse; for example, viewers may recount events from their childhoods, people they have known, or places they have been. Matt stated one lady said, "There's a story in every piece." He knows it's not that the figures are lovely or even beautiful; they connect personally. Shakespeare wrote, "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players." Matt believes people are the most exciting part of life's panoply. The elements of humanity he is fascinated by are the "human" traits and emotions, such as rapture, compassion, engagement, nobility, exhaustion, joy, strength, silliness, and serenity. He says, "What I strive to do is to catch a snapshot of these qualities of the moment and sculpt them."

The time came for Matt to reach into one of the pillowcases removing a sculpture to place on the table. The piece was of a covid-19 nurse calling home on her rest break to tell her family she loved and missed them. Her exhaustion was evident in her slouched posture, marks left on her face from many hours behind a mask, now off. An individual slows down to take a look inquiring if the sculpture was one of Matt's works; he replies in the affirmative and asks, "How does it make you feel?" She replied that it reminded her of her mother's stay in the hospital and the nurses that were so kind to her." The sculptures make a narrative, realistic, encouraging people to find a story or memory that is uniquely theirs.

"During any given day, I see a range of emotions; that's when I know I have been successful in creating art people connect with viscerally; that's my mission."

The second sculpture appears, this time an older man on a walker and a woman blocking his way with her hand touching his cheek. Once again, another person stops, and Matt inquires which sculpture she likes best. She pointed to the man in the walker, remembering when her father was failing, and the family pitched in to help. In Matt's case, the figures were two friends, a man on the walker with ALS and his wife. Once again, one piece and different stories depend on the viewer's life experience. Poet Maya Angelou wrote, "People will forget what you said, what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel." Mirroring the primary objective in sculpturing for artist Matt Werner is to get the viewer in touch with those unexpressed feelings.

Artist Matt Werner creates his skillfully carved figures in his Peoria, Arizona, home studio. The space is stocked with all the equipment required to craft his exquisitely expressive sculptures. Matt estimates he spends 20-30 hours a week in his studio, with each sculpture requiring 200 to over 300 hours from start to finish. Once the final polish is complete, each sculpture is ready to encounter the world and meet you. The rest will fall into the realm Nicholas Sparks mentioned in his book At First Sight, "The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it."

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