Kent Sculptor Goes Wild In Sculpturedale
By Lauren Curran
Kent, Connecticut is probably the last place you’d expect to go on a pseudo safari. Which would explain why drivers taking the picturesque Route 7 near Kent Falls State Park might do a double (or triple) take when they spot a fairly wild kingdom out of the corner of their eye. Okay, the animals aren’t real. But they’re imaginative and compelling enough to make you want to stop and explore the life-size, rusted sculptures on the hill.
The figures are the work of sculptor Denis Curtiss, who meticulously sketches and welds from his nearby workshop using a band saw, fumes extractor, welders and his own handmade tools. He and his wife, Barbara, welcome visitors to their property — a neatly manicured, four-acre swath of beautiful countryside — to roam and take in the views of the life-size or larger creatures. They call it Sculpturedale.
Curtiss refers to the property, which also showcases Barbara’s gardening skills, as a “working gallery.” The animals are strategically placed: a pig and bear are spotted in the distance on a grassy hill; elephants lurk nearby when you first enter the driveway. You can’t miss his best-selling sculpture — a baby elephant sitting on his backside. Take a walk and meet a chipmunk, a blue heron and possibly the form of another species: a dancer. The works are fashioned out of bronze and steel, which he buys from a supplier in Torrington.
Curtiss, who grew up in Cornwall and graduated from Oliver Wolcott Technical High School in Torrington, served in the Peace Corps and taught overseas before returning to the area. He first began creating large sculptures with what he calls “the dancers,” eight-foot wooden and metal figures stretched into a variety of positions.
Then came the animals, of which he’s sold hundreds to people from all over the world, including 20 to the late singer Andy Williams for his own yard and for his Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri. Prices range from $75 to $12,000, which was what someone paid for a Texas Longhorn he sculpted.
All of the pieces at Sculpturedale are for sale, and Curtiss takes commissions. His work has been displayed at countless sculpture exhibitions, and, locally, you can visit some of the Curtiss menagerie at the Interlaken Inn in Lakeville. For customers who don’t have estates (or — for you city folk — any backyard at all), he’s created a line of “Basics,” smaller-scale, more house-friendly pets.
“I love talking with people,” says Curtiss, who quickly came out when I arrived for a visit. He jokingly refers to himself as a “cheap New Englander,” and says no advertising is needed: 85 percent of his customers come right off Route 7, attracted by the simple Sculpturedale sign and the animals lurking up top. It doesn’t hurt that Sculpturedale was mentioned in a New York Times story on Kent, or that Curtiss was included in HGTV’s Off Beat America or that the garden was named one of the places to visit in Yankee magazine’s annual travel issue.
Customer Lisa Vaeth of North Canton says she’s enjoyed the artist’s work since the 1990s, when she commissioned Curtiss to do a dog sculpture for her husband. “There’s something so magical about his sculptures,” she says. “I’m always astounded by the life they bring to the garden.”
Of course, the fact that Curtiss works in steel, and the sculptures are exposed to the elements, means that a certain patina forms on the sculptures after time outside in damp conditions. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Curtiss or his customers.
“The people I sell to want rust,” he says.
Sculpturedale, works of Denis Curtiss
3 Carter Road, Kent, CT
Visitors are welcome most afternoons and weekends.