For our interview with Thomas Randolph Morrison, we ascended to the attic of the St. Vincent’s Guest House in the 1500 block of Magazine Street, where Thomas has lived and created beautiful bronze sculptures for the past 20 years. He’s also spent several years designing and building Carnival floats for Blaine Kern and Royal Artists. Arguably an absolute genius, when not sculpting perfect nude figures, Thomas enjoys writing Physics papers – yes, Physics papers – as well as publishing them and discussing his findings.
Meanwhile in the middle of his main living room stands an amazing life size clay sculpture of Venus that he is about to cast. The walls of his apartment are alive with his beautiful watercolor designs.
“As far as I know, I’m the only one left who paints float designs in watercolor in this generation. I went to the Tulane Carnival Collection and studied those old watercolors from a hundred years ago. I wanted to see the actual techniques used.”
My sculptures were just featured in a Netflix film called The Last Laugh starring Andie McDowell. She plays a sculptor and my work is presented as her character’s work in the film.”
Morrison’s enthusiasm becomes more apparent as he discusses his many projects and ideas. It’s not hard to imagine him up all night in this attic lair, working out complex problems and equations in his head. One of these mental exercises involves creating a better home for the exquisite bronze sculptures that currently line the hallways of St. Vincent’s.
“My dream is to create a living museum. I’ve been creating this inventory of work because I want to create a modern version of Rodin’s Hotel Biron here in New Orleans. Not as the Hotel Biron is today, but as it was when Rodin was alive. Back then it was filled with artists, writers, musicians, scientists and intellectuals. These people would come from all over the world to spend time with each other and see the studio.”
Though not a native of New Orleans – Thomas started his career in California as a sculptor in the film industry – he found his way here because he was intrigued by the idea of working on Carnival floats. His most fulfilling experience as a float designer came from working with Royal Artists.
“I was recruited to Royal Artists by Herb Jahnke. Herb had a true child’s love of Carnival. I went to work for him because I wanted to restore some of the old majesty and craftsmanship to Carnival floats. Herb also wanted to recreate some of that beautiful tradition he witnessed as a child. He was looking for someone who had the advanced training that I had to make that vision of 19th Century Carnival come true.
Carnival was the only place in the country where I could design a float completely – sculpt the sculptures and put them on these floats and share them with everybody who came to the parade. Most companies that hire commercial sculptors these days don’t want realistic human figures. They either want architectural elements or cartoon characters.
Carnival floats are kind of a rolling art exhibition. We got to design this stuff from the ground up and I loved every minute of it. When Hermes hired us to do their parade that took us to the next level. Hermes gave us greater budgets. We spent all that money on making the artwork and making brand new floats – designing them from the ground up. Building them like they did in the 19th century.
I like asymmetric contrapasto kinds of gestures because people really feel them and respond to them. I used to stand in the crowds as the parades were going by and listen to the comments and feedback. It was very satisfying.
I tried to put that knowledge into the models for my bronze sculptures. I use clay models, which is the exact same process that you use when you’re creating life scale fine artwork. You use the same concepts.”
Thomas’s latest sculpture created in his attic apartment, almost ready for the first cast, has been a true labor of love.
“I created a marble process that looks exactly like marble. I want to cast a prototype of Venus using this process. It’s a translucent-like marble and I’m using real incredibly fine marble powder. So, it’s almost pure marble and has this light penetration quality.
A foundry in San Francisco does all of my editions. They’ve got a dedicated wax team. They’ve got a dedicated vestment team. They’ve got the foundry guys who do the pouring, and the metal workers that do all the refining. They’re all specialists.”
Thomas probably wouldn’t be able to achieve such amazing results with his sculptures without his advanced understanding of the laws of Physics. He understands that the weight of each piece much be properly distributed or the pieces won’t be able to stand on their own.
As a visitor to Thomas’s studio, it can be hard to make sense of all of the ideas and information he throws at you. The complex problems he addressed in our interview would overwhelm the average person. Luckily I made an audio recording so that I could go back and listen to everything to make sure that there was nothing I missed. However, it’s hard to funnel all of the information into one magazine article. Thomas Randolph Morrison is a subject worthy of several books.
You can see more of Thomas’s work at www.morrisonsculpture.com