Larry Bechtel – Sculptor and Storyteller

From Z. Kelly Queijo:

Pops Memorial by Larry Bechtel I know Lawrence (Larry) Reid Bechtel as the father of my daughter's best friend, a former English professor and the recycling coordinator at Virginia Tech.  I also know him for creating exquisite sculpture. As you might guess from his list of professions, he didn't directly set out to become a sculptor, but says he was always “angling” in that direction.

"I had not set a clear course toward any goal," Bechtel said.  "Instead, I enjoyed 'enthusiasms' – craft-projects of various sorts, meticulous maps of Europe for school, Dr. Suess or Mad Magazine-inspired drawings of funny-looking creatures and bizarre faces. The human impulse to make and create was at work in me, in a meandering sort of way.”

His body of work includes:

It's not just the quiet beauty of his work, but the process that makes me want to share how this sculptor/storyteller creates art.

Before Bechtel begins to shape and mold the clay that will eventually get cast in bronze, he first has to shape and mold the subject within his mind. He thoroughly researches each subject's story so he can accurately retell it in sculpture.

Currently in process is “Ready” a police dog sculpture, commissioned by the Virginia Police Work Dog Association (VPWDA). It will reside at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) at Virginia Tech. An official unveiling is planned for September, 2009.

From historic figures to modern day heroes, Bechtel recreates that one thought, one look, one pose from a single moment in the lives of his subjects as if he had been right there with them. The same way an actor might study to play a new role, Bechtel studies his part.

"I’m strictly a 'trial and error' sort of artist, and therefore have taken solace in James Joyce’s remark that mistakes are 'portals of discovery,' (for the 'man of genius,' at least – which I do not pretend to be).”

He's sculpted the faces of men who've made history: Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglas, Blaise Pascal, and C.S. Lewis. I asked him if there were someone he had a burning desire to sculpt. His answer, one word: "Obama."

His research methods are traditional – relying on photographs, letters, books, and articles – as well as experiential. He has ridden with police officers, attended the funeral of a service dog; donned period clothing that Addison Caldwell might have worn; learned of love, loss, and duty from families and friends. He's seen and touched the lives of those he portrays in sculpture and it shows.


In the video below, Bechtel tells of his use of organic content development and the care that went into creating Merlin the Wizard, a wall sculpture:


Z. Kelly Queijo writes about business and technology, people and their passions.  She is a frequent contributor to Handshake 2.0.

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  1. Danny Axsom says:

    Interesting article. I know Larry only casually but this gave me a much better understanding of his work and background. I hadn’t realized that many pieces I knew of (e.g., Add Caldwell) were his. I’m a friend of Jack Dudley so would like to see that piece too.

  2. Kathie Dickenson says:

    I was acquainted with Larry years ago when his son played baseball (or T-ball – how long ago??) with one of my sons. At the time, he was making wood sculptures from storm-downed trees. We had a mutual writer friend, for whom he created a wonderful piece: a hand, holding a pen, poised to write – but with a nail piercing the top side of the hand. Yes, writer’s block hurts.

  3. I think you’ll like the Jack Dudley portrait sculpture over in Hillcrest, Danny. I was very happy with the way it turned out, and I think everyone else was, too. The unveiling ceremony on Monday (May 4)was wonderful, with lots of laughter. Jack is much beloved by the VT community. I’m glad you like the Addison Caldwell sculpture–the idealism of that young man, hiking 28 miles over the mountains to attend a university, was so appealing–

  4. Thank you for this comment, Kathie! T-Ball, wow! Let’s see: twenty years ago, at least.

    I didn’ know you were friends with Simone, but yes, that “Writer’s Block” carving was a good one! The writing hand was made from a piece of Lilac I found over at the duckpond, and the spike through the fist was carved from a piece of walnut. Please say hi to Simone if you see her!

  5. It’s always amazing the talent found in our own backyard! I’ve received emails from people who know Jack and have seen the sculpture and love it! You really captured him, Larry. By the way, I’ve seen “Writer’s Block” too and did not know, at the time, it was your work. All excellent!

    – Kelly Queijo

  6. i like this part of the postHe’s sculpted the faces of men who’ve made history: Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglas, Blaise Pascal, and C.S. Lewis. is very good

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