Dallas sculptor Brad Oldham just wants to start a conversation. Between Republicans and Democrats. Weeks after a pivotal and ugly presidential election. With a playful elephant and a dancing donkey. Of course.
As blue and red signs come down from local front yards and we fret over the “fiscal cliff,” Oldham’s timing is either brilliant or naïve. Regardless, it’s inspired, sincere and all sorts of fun.
“I’m not the most political person, but I like the idea of bipartisanship,” Oldham says. “The way I would want to get into politics is by creating something like this.”
“I like the idea of bipartisanship,” Oldham says. “The way I would want to get into politics is by creating something like this.”
Oldham wears a lot of hats: nationally known artist, creator of the Traveling Man statues in Deep Ellum, brother of internationally famed fashion designer Todd Oldham, co-owner of Brad Oldham International Inc. (with his wife, Christy Coltrin), father of three and a kick-ass rebounder on the basketball court.
His latest venture is his Bipartisan Collection, two series of sculpture: the Presidential Series (44 antique nickel-plated bronze pairs, one for each president) and the Senate Series (with 100 pieces, reflecting the number of U.S. Senators, in bronze with appropriate party patina — blue or red). A House Series in bronze is still a possibility.
As the promotional material reads: “This collection of sculptures was created during the 2012 election season to celebrate the many ways our political views make us different while showing that deep down, we may be more alike than we think.”
Odlham, a lifetime Democrat, took that seriously. The day after the 2012 election, he hired Leslie Sorrell to head up the PR for this collection. Sorrell was regional director during Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign and is founder of the Magnolia Group, a fundraising and political consulting firm in Dallas. She is also a Fox News contributor.
When Oldham called, Sorrell admitted she was in mourning. And, deep into the idea of bipartisan, Oldham thinks Obama could do a little less gloating about his victory.
Creating the series during the 2012 campaign was interesting for Oldham. As a rare Highland Park Democrat who often grew frustrated when his 10-year-old felt the effects of political differences, Oldham found himself noticing and aggravated when people were one-sided.
The concept that inspired the series didn’t start out to be political at all. Oldham was doing what he does in the studio and created a series of elephant sculptures in 2011. Just fun poses — Uno (now standing on one leg to represent balance), Slide (playfully lunging forward to show compromise) and Giggles (lying on its back, laughing it up to illustrate a much-needed sense of humor).
“Most people think you can’t get near art,” says Leslie Sorrell, who heads up PR for the collection. “Brad’s point is to make this accessible — the same as politics.”
From that — inspired by the election — Oldham transformed the elephant into half of the Bipartisan Series.
The pieces weigh 5.5 to 8 pounds each. And, yes, an elephant does traditionally weigh more than a donkey. But Oldham was OCD in his attempts to make all things equal, weighing down the donkey in ways you can’t see.
Coltrin spent five months creating content for a leather-bound book to go with the pieces, mentioning bipartisan efforts such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, social security reform in 1983 and welfare reform in 1996.
She highlighted the ways donkeys and elephants are alike — they are used for transportation, are sure-footed and have big ears, for example. She also made sure the number of words were politically balanced and even changed the color of the book’s fore edge from blue to beige so as not to offend.
Uno, Slide and Giggles (Oldham’s favorite) don their party colors for the Senate Series but not for the Presidential: “Presidents are not supposed to be party specific,” Oldham explains. “They are supposed to be bipartisan, to make the United States work for all the people.”
What response is Oldham looking for? A simple conversation. Pick up the pieces, feel their weight, talk about them, talk about politics. Just talk.
“Most people think you can’t get near art,” Sorrell says. “Brad’s point is to make this accessible — the same as politics.”
And he’d like you to do your part too. Oldham is expanding his concept to other creatives he knows, starting with chef John Tesar of the crazy popular restaurant Spoon, who is apparently as into politics as he is into food. Stay tuned to hear how Tesar steps into the bipartisan movement Oldham is creating.
If this fits someone on your Christmas list, it’ll run you $3,500 for the Presidential Series (sold only in pairs because, Oldham says, the president represents everyone) or $1,600 for individual Senate Series pieces, which are $2,500 when purchased together. (Yep, you get a 22 percent bipartisan discount.)
The actual pieces won’t be delivered in their stately birch boxes until Inauguration Day, January 21. Each piece has about 15 hours into it, and it is signed and numbered.
One already has a destination. Oldham plans to send a set to the White House — No. 44, of course.