“I was surrounded by creative people as I grew up,” said Key Peninsula sculptor Paul Michaels. “Dad was an artist who did watercolor painting and enameling. Both of my grandfathers liked to find creative solutions to mechanical projects around their homes.”
Michaels was born in Tacoma, grew up in Fircrest and moved to the KP in 1999 with his wife, Elise, a fourth-grade teacher at Vaughn Elementary School. They have two sons, Paul and David.
Michaels attended Wilson High School, focusing on fine arts and graduating in 1972, then attended Tacoma Community College, where his dad taught art. Michaels’ initial training in bronze work was at TCC.
“I had no idea then that bronze sculpture would be my career,” he said.
Michaels completed his studies at Washington State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in art in 1976. He could finally enjoy the creative part of his professional career after working in Tacoma for 17 years, eventually moving to the Key Peninsula. He started sculpting carousel figures and restoring antique ones. Currently he likes to create human bronze sculptures that capture the personality and likeness of his subjects.
After Michaels carves the pattern for a bronze sculpture, it is cast by a foundry using the sand-casting method. When the sculpture is just right, molds are made and the object is completed using the traditional lost-wax method. The molds are made of a clay sculpture and are then duplicated in wax. After he puts the finishing touches on the wax, the metal work is finally done at the foundry.
When Michaels starts a project, he enjoys learning the subject’s history to help capture their personality in his work. His first sculpture was Ben B. Cheney, which can be seen permanently sitting in the stands at Cheney Stadium.
“I had been thinking of pursuing the idea of creating a public sculpture,” Michaels said. “Ben Cheney had an interesting story and the stadium seemed a good place to site the sculpture.”
He made a maquette (a small-scale sculpture of the proposal) and met with Brad Cheney. “He welcomed me back to discuss the idea several times,” Michaels said. Eventually, the Cheney Foundation decided to back the statue and hired him to do the job in 1995.
“Brad Cheney provided many photos and shared his memories,” Michaels said. “He loaned me his dad’s ‘Cheney Studs’ baseball jacket, which happened to fit my dad, who I used as a model for the statue.”
The final sculpture includes details about Ben Cheney’s personality: his watch worn on the inside of his wrist and the No. 24 on the back of his seat. The No. 24 was special to Ben Cheney because that was Willie Mays’ number, Cheney was born March 24 and he manufactured 2-by-4s.
After completing sculptures of Alan C. Mason, a Tacoma pioneer in the Proctor business district; William Rust, in the City of Ruston; and several other bronze plaques and signs, his latest work is of Harry Bridges, Longshoremen organizer. This full-size bronze sculpture is on display at the ILWU Local 23 Longshoremen’s meeting hall in Fife until a permanent site is found.
Michaels is presently heading up the renovation of the Vaughn Library Hall for the Key Peninsula Historical Society. He has taken over 50 truckloads of trash to the landfill so far. Some of the material resulted in income for KPHS, such as a recent load that netted $750 from a scrap metal dealer.
This project has been taking up much of Michaels’ time over the past year, getting it ready for more serious renovation in the future, but he’s still been involved in designing markers and plaques for both KPHS and the Tacoma Historical Society. His bronze markers, signs and plaques can be seen many in places in the Tacoma area.
Contact Paul Michaels at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at michaelsbronze.com.