Former Area Man Shaping Up to Be Elite Sculptor
(Photos courtesy of Bryan Rapp.)
Meadville-native Bryan Rapp, who has family in the Emlenton and St. Petersburg area, is currently the Director of the Wallace Master Sculptor Program at Brookgreen Gardens, in Murrells Inlet (Myrtle Beach area), South Carolina, the largest and most comprehensive sculpture collection in the United States.
Rapp, 49, spent almost every summer of his youth in the Clarion County area visiting family and “just being a kid.”
“I guess you can take a person out of Western Pa., but you can’t take the Western Pa. out of the person,” Rapp said. “My family still lives around Pittsburgh and I still have cousins, aunts, and uncles who live around Emlenton. I don’t get back there very often, but when I think of my childhood, I think of the Clarion River and Allegheny River, inner tubing, and canoeing. Fond memories like that.”
Rapp started his journey as a student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh where he studied computer animation and took introductory sculpting courses.
While in school, Rapp was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, a disease that results from the temporary or permanent loss of blood supply to a bone, and became limited in terms of movement and physical ability. Rapp battled the disease for almost two years while his artistic mind yearned for an outlet.
While he dealt with his physical issues, Rapp thought back to a clay sculpting course at the Art Institute and filled that void.
“It was that project that I fell in love with sculpting,” he said. “When I was homebound and dealing with my (injuries), I started sculpting again.”
And, it took off.
Rapp quickly found his niche and began doing odd jobs for a friend who was a master sculptor.
Eventually, Rapp created a series of French-Indian War figures pertinent to Western Pennsylvania history and continued to perfect his craft of clay sculpting.
While showcasing clay sculptures in an exhibit near Pittsburgh in 2004, Rapp was encouraged by fellow artists to look into bronze casting, the process of pouring molten bronze into a hollow mold to create a positive bronze sculpture.
Rapp then connected with renowned sculptor Alan Cottrill, based out of Zanesville, Ohio, who invited him to his studio for a tour. Three days later, Rapp moved into an apartment behind Cottrill’s studio and began an apprenticeship.
Over ten years later, Rapp was a skilled and established sculptor, and eventually received his Master of Fine Arts degree in 2016 from the University of Oklahoma.
The terminal degree allowed Rapp to teach art in universities, and he became an Artist-in-Residence at Coastal Carolina, where he undertook one of his most extensive projects – a twelve-foot high Chanticleer mascot for the University’s newly expanded DI football stadium.
The project was an enormous undertaking, according to Rapp, due to it being a learning objective, not a commissioned work.
“I don’t think there was any university in the country that would dare do anything like that. It took about three years. We had to fight through all kinds of obstacles,” Rapp said. “A couple times we were shut down because of different safety issues. We had a couple of hurricanes that closed that campus down so that continuously throws you off schedule. Then, if you don’t get everything done by the end of the semester, the campus shuts down again. Right when we would hit a rhythm, we would have to stop.”
Through the obstacles, student turnover, and other issues during the physically demanding processes, Rapp and the students were able to complete the sculpture, which weighed approximately four tons. Three of Rapp’s students who worked on the project eventually secured their own Master of Fine Arts degree.
“To me, that was the most rewarding part of it,” Rapp said. “To have students who sacrificed and dedicated so much time that they went on and got their degree.”
Following the Chanticleer project, Rapp was on to the next step in his career before he knew it when he came into contact with Robin Salmon, Vice President of Historical Collections at Brookgreen. Salmon has spent nearly half a decade in the industry.
“She knows everyone who’s anyone in sculpting,” Rapp said. “I made contact with her while I was working at Coastal, and she said if they don’t have a faculty position for you when the project’s over, I’d like to make you a position. When it became clear that CCU didn’t have any room for another sculpture professor, she pulled me into Brookgreen.”
Since his start at Brookgreen in 2019, Rapp has coordinated educational programming and week-long sculpture workshops taught by elite American representational sculptors and medallists such as Paul Moore, Sandy Scott, David Simon, and many more.
“Some of these sculptors are still alive, so you never know when they might be visiting or walking around,” Rapp noted. “To be around some of these people, even though I’ve been sculpting for 20 years, I was very intimidated at first. But it’s been very rewarding in the sense that I get to sometime sit in on these workshops that they keep. Sculpting for 20 years and being self-taught, I get to sit in and watch them teach.”
Rapp grew up as an avid Pittsburgh sports and movie junkie, and it has translated into many of his pieces.
Around 2010, Rapp created a 17-inch Mario Lemieux statue sculpted from roma plastilina modeling clay. A few years later, Rapp created a bust of longtime play-by-play commentator for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Lange, to celebrate his recent retirement. The work was featured on an episode of Inside Penguins Hockey on AT&T SportsNet in March.
“I would like to be the guy they call when there’s a new sculpture going up in Pittsburgh. I want to be that person,” Rapp said. “To sculpt Pittsburgh sportspeople, that would be the ultimate fun to get paid to do something like that.”
Currently, Rapp is working on a sculpture of Pittsburgh hockey legend and former head coach “Badger” Bob Johnson.
Rapp says his best work is probably the Lemieux piece, but if you asked him what his favorite piece of his would be, he’d tell you it’s the bust of Bill Murray.
The inspiration for the piece came after Rapp almost physically ran into Murray at an airport in South Carolina. Rapp began the project during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to sharpen his portrait sculpting skills.
He also has sculpted movie characters such as Spock from Star Trek.
In the future, Rapp wants one thing – to be commissioned for the next Pittsburgh sports statue, whenever that may be.
“I’ll definitely do a Ben (Roethlisberger) and a Sidney (Crosby),” he said. “I hope that somehow we can generate some public interest and when that day comes, they’ll be like ‘well, that Bryan Rapp guy already did one.’”
For more information, or more pictures of his work, visit Rapp’s website.
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