Imagine waking up every day loving what you do for a living. Sound like an impossible dream? For University of Oregon grad and sculptor Alison Brown, it’s a reality. “If money were no object at all,” Brown says, “and I could do whatever I wanted, I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing right now.”
Brown grew up interested in the arts. “I’ve always known that I wanted to be an artist,” she says. As a student, she served on the board of The Duck Store, the university’s bookstore. As a board member, Brown got a close look at university-licensed product retail sales. “I was really fascinated by it,” she says, “but didn’t know how I would apply it to a business I could create.”
After meeting Troutdale artist Rip Caswell, Brown learned about the lost-wax casting method of sculpting. “I was inspired by his work. This translated into me just going for it,” Brown says. Soon she began sculpting the UO duck mascot, and her business, Campus Sculptures, was born.
The lost-wax casting method is labor intensive. “It takes about 20 artists other than myself to create each sculpture, from small to monument size,” says Brown.
First, Brown creates the “bone structure” of a piece using wax or clay, delicately refining details, expressions, and textures. Then the work is encased in a silicon rubber mold.
After removing the original wax or clay sculpture, hot wax—around 200 degrees Fahrenheit—is poured into the rubber mold. This first “hot” layer fills in the finest details, then subsequent layers of cooler wax (160-180 degrees) are poured in to build up the wax pattern until it is 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch thick. After the cooled wax positives are pulled from the mold, Brown hand-finishes the patterns to reveal their originally sculpted details and textures.
Brown mainly produces the Duck mascot in a variety of sizes and poses, from riding a motorcycle to receiving a diploma. However, she also works with the University of Southern California, Oregon State University, and Boise State University. “I’ll do anything,” she adds, “but university work keeps me pretty busy.” An example of Brown’s work can be seen outside the Ford Alumni Center on the UO campus.
Brown says she thinks most of her business comes from word-of-mouth and local media. Her projects range from large—an 8-foot-tall Duck statue—to a small Duck-themed wine-stopper. “I’ve seen the whole spectrum,” she says. “I’ve worked on all different scales.”
“It’s very much what you do with it,” Brown says, describing her non-traditional business model. “It’s not like any other business where you have projected sales and all that. I’m always out there meeting new people,” she says. “I’ve been working hard to build enthusiasm about public artwork.”
Some of Brown’s non-university work also demonstrates her interest in the natural world and animal forms, like statues of penguins and moose. And recently, Brown produced a sculpture of NBA legend and beloved Portland Trail Blazer Bill Walton. The life-sized sculpture, commissioned by former UO Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny, was recently unveiled in San Diego. “Bill was there and I got to know him,” Brown recalls, “It was a really great experience.”
So as a UO alumna and an avid sports fan, has Brown ever been asked to produce a mascot that contradicts her team allegiances? “I’ll just plead the fifth,” Brown laughs.