Mid Atlantic Region
Self-taught sculptor near Centerville, Pennsylvania
William Brady (b. 1943)
Art by William Brady
Art Type or Medium: Drawing; Sculpture
Viewable: arrangements for a visit can be made
Secular or Religious: Secular
In 1963, Philadelphia steelworker William Brady Sr. moved his family to northwestern Pennsylvania to take a superintendent position at Universal-Cyclops Steel in Titusville, Pa. Bill Sr. was an accomplished artisan who spent most of his free time crafting decorative works in his fully equipped blacksmithing shop.
Born in 1943, Bill Jr.’s severe dyslexia was un-recognized in the 1950’s, and it prevents him, to this day, from being able to read or write. The young schoolboy would frequently sneak off to work in the sanctuary of an empty art studio, and he did well in academic courses when the teachers were willing to read test questions to him. However, his inability to learn reading and writing was, at the time, thought to be the result of a lazy or un-motivated attitude. At the age of 17, Bill had finished 9th grade, but was considered “ineducable” and was discouraged from continuing on to high school. He dropped-out and took jobs with a seed and two shipbuilding companies in the Philadelphia area, then as a logger after the family’s move to western Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania to New England
In his early twenties, Bill moved first to Cape Cod and worked a variety of jobs– often in construction and carpentry, Working simultaneously in a shipyard and as a short-order cook, Bill began to ply his interest in tinsmithing, and for several years he made and sold reproductions of early American tinware (such as lanterns, chandeliers, sconces, and candle holders.
While living in Maine, he became friends with Clark Fitz-Gerald (d 2004), a professionally successful sculptor, and with his encouragement, Bill began to consider the possibility of metalsmithing as a profession. After a move to Boston in his late 20’s, Bill continued making early American imitations, and he also began to create personal sculptures from images that came to his mind’s eye. Bill’s sketchbook drawings have often become sculptures years (or decades) later, and they also include drawings of planes, ice boats (including one he built), futuristic housing design, dirigible barns, wall paintings, high atmosphere kite-driven sailboats, hot air balloons, rocket-ships, and more.
California in the ’60’s
Influenced by the bus mobility of 60’s youth culture, Bill bought a surplus Navy school bus for $900, customized the front for living, and opened-up the rear into a glass-enclosed metal shop. Along with periodic odd jobs, Bill primarily made his living from the early American reproductions, and his own lighting fixture designs. He returned to the Centerville, Pa family home after about seven years in New England, and drove the bus to California around a year later.
Having run out of gas in Santa Cruz, Bill settled in with the local counter-culture scene, and regularly sold his wares at a weekend Drive-In turned flea market. Parked and living on something of a ‘bus commune’ (called “the freedom farm” by its residents, and located on an abandoned apricot orchard), and once again living near a harbor, he also found odd jobs repairing and refinishing private boats.
Learning to Fly
Bill and a friend in Big Sur, California, bought a pair of ultra-light airplane kits, built them, and then after first learning to fly glider planes, taught themselves to fly the ultra-lights. Since his youth, Bill had always dreamed of flying; two uncles had been WW II fighter pilots, and while flying himself over the crashing coastal waves, he recalled having been told in his youth that he was “too stupid” to learn to fly.
Return to Northwestern Pennsylvania
In the mid 1980’s, Bill drove his bus back to Centerville, and parked it in the backyard of the rural family property, where it remains. Through the skylight windows above and around the sleeping loft in his bus, Bill resides within the rhythms of the natural landscape, and sees dazzling starry vistas against a deep black sky. The family home offers some amenities missing from his ‘low-budget RV’, but the wood-stove heated bus remains Bill’s domicile. Bill belongs to a club of local amateur aviators, and for 14 years, using plans first published in the 1930’s, he has been building (from scratch) a “Georgias Special” single seat airplane (examples of the plans below).
Bill now tinsmiths only his own sculptural creations, and exhibits periodically in northwestern Pennsylvania. Visual ideas just pop into his head, onto a sketchbook page,and eventually out of his forge.
Bill has no background training in in the arts, and he struggles to think of any influential artworks he’s seen in his travels. There are recurring transportation and figurative themes along with (apparent) abstractions that are based on ideas, for example: a totem of twelve decreasing in size discs represents the passing of calendar months (below right).
Living with Nature
Bill’s language skills have been fully developed throughout his life, and he ‘reads’ about two (mostly travel and history books) on tape a month, through headphones while he works. It doesn’t seem that dyslexia has caused Bill’s work to be any more ‘non-verbal’ than the work of many text-free artists. However, that condition, along with stuttering problems, have always made Bill something of an ‘outsider’ in society, and that no doubt contributes to the uniqueness of his vision.
left: honey jar, olive oil, ?, bananas, onions, cat food, milk
center: bird seed, corn (for deer feed), bird suet, bag of ?, cat litter
right: solder flux, coil of solder, tin sheets, 3/16 inch welding rods, 1/4 inch bolts
Bill Brady seems content that his long journeys have brought him somewhat hermetically back to nature, and home to northwestern Pennsylvania, probably to stay. I would be happy to pass along any further inquiries there might be about Bill and his work.
- News & Events: Bill Brady featured in Erie Times-News
- News & Events: Bill Brady Retrospective
- News & Events: Bill Brady Receives Juror’s Award