Around the Farm Neck links, Don Wilks likes when fellow golfers find out he’s an artist. “They always say, ‘You’re not the kind of guy I expect . . .’ ” This may be, Mr. Wilks points out, because he is neatly turned out and he does not have long hair.
He also does not have a traditional studio — “cause I don’t want one,” he adds, down the line from his office in Chilmark, talking on the hands-free phone so he can pull the right creases in the skirt of a dancer sculpture he is perfecting as we speak. He uses the same kind of space for this art work as he used to run a chain of radio stations he owned and sold. He does a little consulting from here, too, when he’s not fishing or golfing or sculpting. It’s the same in his office in Florida, where he lives in the winter.
A selection of his bronze sculpture — dancers, acrobats and animals, caught in motion — will be on exhibit at the North Water Gallery in Edgartown from Thursday, alongside art by George Bramhall and Ken Auster. The opening reception is open to all, from 5 to 7 p.m. and Mr. Wilks will be there.
Though it may come as a surprise to those who share his tee-times, Mr. Wilks says he often can be found sculpting in the middle of the night. Whenever the inspiration strikes, he strikes; he likes figures with a lot of action, and the slightest adjustment can make all the difference in the motion of the resulting sculpture.
“Achieving the elasticity of the body is very difficult,” he explains. “It’s about anatomy, and bone structure.” Dancers and acrobats have been the focus of his oeuvre, often multiple figures interacting.
“Eighty per cent [of a work] is done within a few weeks,” he says. “But that last 20 per cent can take . . . four to five months.”
If a piece isn’t finished when he’s heading to the Vineyard for the summer, Mr. Wilks has a system for bolting the boxed work-in-progress down to the floor in the back of his car. “If it does get any damage, I can easily reconstruct it. It’s only clay [at that stage].”
His process begins with a rough armature for the piece, brought to life by a French clay, le Beau Touche. “It doesn’t dry out and it doesn’t smell either,” he notes appreciatively. He needs few tools; even the detailed work is done mostly with his hands.
When his clay sculpture is finished, he takes it to a special Boston foundry that works only with artisans, the New England Sculpture Service.
He makes up to 12 bronzes from a single mold; up to 12 can be made and still called originals, he explained. He is considering producing a second edition of some of his more popular sculptures.
He has been sculpting for 30 years, though much more seriously in the past 10. His business connections allowed him to meet his own inspiration, Frank Eliscu, sculptor of the Heisman Trophy, who offered advice and instruction to Mr. Wilks.
The Granary Gallery was the first to exhibit Mr. Wilks’s work, and his voice still registers a thrill when he talks about seeing his bronze on granite base pieces in the red barn gallery.
He is equally enthusiastic about being among the first artists showing at the Granary’s new sister gallery in Edgartown, North Water Gallery.
Don’t come looking for sculptures of golfers, though. “That has never interested me,” Mr. Wilks says, before getting back to the clay all over his office, possibly in time for nine holes before sunset.
For more information, call the gallery at 508-627-6002.