SMYRNA, Del. (AP) — At first glance, Richard H. Bailey’s yellow bungalow-style home looks like any other house, until closer inspection reveals a workspace at the end of the driveway filled with a collection of marble sculptures.
Peruvian onyx. Jade. Fluorite. Soapstone. Steatite. Red marble. Each stone is cool to the touch. A stark contrast to the sweltering sun beaming down on his Smyrna studio.
The stones are scattered throughout the property in various phases of completion. Some were made into fountains. A few are halfway to being patterned fish. Others await their turn as marble butterflies.
While some of the works in progress are rough and scratchy, others are smooth and shiny from hours spent sanding each sculpture to its final form.
What all these creations have in common is their place in Bailey’s 60-year sculpting career.
Bailey, who turned 82 in June, could not imagine having done anything else with his life.
“I love the prospecting of it, selling it, meeting new people. Going to art galleries, shows,” he said. “I’m just a kid. I still have to have fun, you know.”
Bailey considers his art less of a conscious choice he made and more of a calling from God.
When he was in high school in 1958, he went to church one day with his mother and asked God, “What do you want me to do?” God then told him to “work in stone,” he said.
“Well, when God said to work in stone, how could I refuse him? He gave me everything I needed,” Bailey said.
That same year, he made his first sculpture out of an 11-inch square salt block, a head bust statue of President Dwight Eisenhower, who he learned is a 10th cousin.
Since that moment in church in 1958, he has sold over 700 sculptures around the country and overseas.
Born in Dover in 1940, Bailey grew up on a 160-acre farm with a 3-mile river running through the property. Animals and wildlife were a large part of his childhood and have greatly influenced his marble sculpting.
A walk through his home studio shows a glimpse at his abundant collection of animal statues. A cubic style marble skunk, an abstract bear on all fours, a cardinal made from red jasper, a dusty-red rooster.
One of his prized possessions, a large turtle sculpture made from purple-toned stone, was inspired by a turtle Bailey saw coming out of a wheat field on his farm when he was younger.
After high school, Bailey took classes at the Delaware Art Museum in the early 1960s before going to New York to learn more about sculpting.
In the Big Apple, he studied at the Art Students League and became interested in cubism and Picasso. He also attended the New School for Social Research and learned from famous sculptor Jose de Creeft, who was well-known for his 16-foot bronze Alice in Wonderland sculpture in Central Park.
From there, he began taking long summer trips to Italy, where he practiced at the Nicoli Studios, saw the work of Michelangelo and once carved a Roman head statue on the ship ride over. He also spent part of his summers in Vermont taking classes on making tombstones and selling them locally.
As his career took off and he began selling his work, he often took commissions for pieces or put his sculptures on display in galleries around the country.
When starting a new sculpture, Bailey always makes at least 10 sketches to flesh out different ideas before settling on the final look. For larger statues, he often makes small-scale models to use as reference.
Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night to jot down ideas when he can’t sleep, but he usually isn’t too strict about scheduling his art and prefers to create by letting his spirit guide him, he said.
In his book, “A Sculptor’s Miracles,” Bailey discusses the connection between his faith and his work, saying that his final sculptures serve as a physical representation of what the materials, like marble and granite, say to him.
First Corinthians 3:11-12, “If you work in gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay and stubble, your work will be tested by fire,” is a quote that has motivated him throughout his career to find beauty in natural materials.
Now, you can find Bailey sculpting every day and selling his art around the region in Rehoboth, Hartly and Annapolis.
Although he doesn’t do commissions as much as he used to and conducts his sales by appointment only, he still finds many people interested in his work. Several pieces have sold in local galleries within the past few weeks.
Aside from his animal sculptures and cubic work, he makes realistic sculptures, mosaics and crosses for donation to churches.
“I’m still working at it slowly. It’s been a good year,” he said, adding that after all these years, he still enjoys the challenge of beating the stone, the process of carving the materials with a hammer and chisel.
“Everything I do is fun. This is not work for me,” Bailey said. “It’s been a great life. I love it.”