Unto Him: The Story of Sculptor Doug Young

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Sculptures. You know, sometimes I talk to them, and I try not to do that in public, but you have to get a sense for who they are and what they’re doing and where they’re looking. You know, turn your head this way, turn your head that way.

Oo, sorry about that. This is what artists do the most. This is what we do the most. Sweep.

You don’t always know who you’re talking to.

Aviation mechanics is what I’ve been interpreting the last two and a half years. And that’s been very difficult. Because there are no signs for “magneto” and “longeron” and “aileron” and “elevator” and all these airplane signs.

Trevor and I will come up with signs that he could recognize the word and understand the part in the airplane and then recognize the sign with it.

You’re communicating with your hands. You’re talking with your hands. You’re trying to express a thought.

Art, I guess, is the same way. You’re communicating with your hands and trying to give a thought of what this object is. So, it evokes an emotion, or it communicates something. And if my pieces don’t communicate something then I think I’ve lost.

When you’re creating a work of art, you don’t know who’s going to be looking at it. It can be a child, and they’ll look at it from a different perspective, obviously. But they’ll look at it with a different frame of reference.

Someone who knew Shoeless Joe Jackson looks at him differently. They would know how he stood, how his foot was turned, how large his hands were. They would have a different relationship with him. And it also communicates differently depending on how the light and shadow hits it. How the mood of the person is at the time, if they’re—if they’re sad or quiet.

I remember someone told me that they were looking at the Gethsemane sculpture that I did. They were walking by, and they saw a girl kneeling beside the Gethsemane sculpture just crying and praying. She was there at that prayer garden looking at it differently than some people who just pass by.

So I create the pieces not knowing really the full extent of what’s going to happen with them. But every one of them is different.

Usually when I start a sculpture, I do a small scale model, a maquette, so that the client knows what it’s going to look like. I could do sketches and drawings, but I like working in 3-D because I can solve a lot of problems and work out details and kind of get the idea for myself. And then I can present it to the client, and they can turn it around and get a good grasp of what it’s supposed to look like.

After I get a sculpture finished, the clay’s all done, I call a foundry and say, “Alright, it’s time.”

It’s usually cut in pieces. Like, the head is cut off, and the arms are cut off. And then, after the head is cut off, it’s divided into two parts. They make a mold, and once that mold has been made, wax will be brushed inside the mold until it’s about 3/4 inch thick. That mold is popped out so you have an exact replica, complete with fingerprints and everything else, of the original clay. That wax, then, is dipped in about twelve layers of porcelain slurry, and then it’s fired. And the wax on the inside melts out, and the bronze is poured in. Then the porcelain is beat off, and then you weld all the pieces back together again. It takes about six months to do a life-size sculpture and a whole team of people at the foundry.

I grew up in Connersville, Indiana, which is a little factory town right in the middle of Indiana halfway between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Small place. My dad was a factory worker. My mom was a housewife. There were four of us kids who grew up at the public school there. I took some art classes, and that’s where my art interest was piqued.

I got saved when I was 10 years old. There was a little church. My little church actually started in my parents’ garage on our property in that little town.

I came to Bob Jones because my dad said, “You can go anywhere you want, as long as it’s Bob Jones.” And they had a good art program. So, I said, “Ok. That’s good for me.”

(Were you excited about it?)

Are you kidding me? I was scared to death. I hadn’t even gone away to camp before. I was a little, tiny, skinny freshman. Bob Jones University is almost larger than my hometown. So, it was—it was overwhelming to me. Didn’t know anybody. My sister was there a year ahead of me, and that was it.

We didn’t have cell phones back then to communicate all the time, and email, and all that. It was a letter once a week at best, and I was not good at returning letters.

As a freshman, I was very—ok, truth be told, I almost ran away from school. Ok. You can edit this, if you want to. I was working in the dining common my freshman year. And, you know, it wasn’t an easy job. I was garbage detail, you know, scraping all the trays and banging things, and the big barrels of chicken debris and bones and all that had to be tossed. One Thanksgiving, I was so homesick, and I just thought, “I’m outta here.” And I looked at the road going out, you know, 291, and I thought, “I wonder. I wonder if I could just find a ride home. I’ve just had it.”

I also remember when I was at Bob Jones—you know, I didn’t pass my sophomore art check. I don’t know if you know that. I was asked to change majors, and, some people say, “That’s terrible! How could they have asked you to do that?!” And I struggled with that a long time. I wasn’t ready to be an art major. I wasn’t ready to make it on my own. And now, I realize that God has brought this back. Like I said, I didn’t do any art for, I don’t know, 7 or 10 years. But God used that to send me to Faith Christian School in Ramseur and to be a youth pastor and to grow up and to learn some things.

I was youth pastor, music director, janitor, bus driver, whatever. You know. And I taught art, and I taught music, and I taught science. We had all kinds of kids in our class, you know, chicken farmer kids and tobacco farmer kids and just all kinds. You’re teaching kids, and you never know what they’re going to be when they grow up. We had one who graduated and became a lawyer. We had one who graduated and became dean of women. We had one who became the dean of the School of Fine Arts at Bob Jones University.

Then there was a continuing education class in North Carolina, in Asheboro, and there was a sculptor there who taught art classes. And I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” So, I took some sculpting classes and just really enjoyed it. And then I didn’t do anything for that until I came here to Greenville 10 years later.

While I was there, there was a workshop on sign language. So, I took some workshops and met some deaf people, and ended up interpreting at the Wilds for two summers. But God has a way of just, you know, letting things grow and letting things mellow and letting us learn.

I also directed the handbell choir at Faith. And we came back one year. A friend of mine was working at Bob Jones University Press. He gave me a tour, and he said they were looking for somebody to head up the advertising and marketing department. Well, I just laughed because I hadn’t passed my art check and it was still kind of tender in my mind. So, I thought about it, and we prayed about it, and we came here. My wife worked customer services. I started the advertising/marketing for the Press.

We did all the catalogues, advertising pieces, Soundforth, Showforth, all the covers and CD covers, and all that. So, I was there for 10 years or 12 years, and then after that they wanted to do the web technology—have a separate division for that. So, I moved over there, and we did the internet and intranet sites. Both departments grew, and I grew. Learned a lot. After that, they closed that department down, so I had a decision to make. You know, look for another job on campus, or try making it as a sculptor.

I really thought the Lord was leading me to become a sculptor. And to see what was out there. I had already done the Shoeless Joe Jackson statue at that point.

I was traveling with faculty men’s chorus when I was at Bob Jones. I think we were traveling in Texas, but Gene Fisher was part of the group, and as we were traveling on the big bus, we were making conversation. He asked me what I like to do, and I said, “Well, I like sculpting.” He said, “Can you sculpt this?” And there was a picture of Shoeless Joe Jackson in the newspaper. And I said, “Sure.” So, when we got back, I just thought, “I’m going to do a sculpture of that.” So, I did a small sculpture of Shoeless Joe Jackson, and showed it to him, and he got all excited. We had a small bronze made. Then, Dr. Bob III found out about it, and he said, “I didn’t know you did sculpture!” And so, he called me up to his office and had me bring it up there and show it to him. And he called the mayor while I was standing there, and it’s like, “What’s going on here?” The mayor was out of town, but he made me promise to get in touch with Knox White when the mayor got back in town.

Well, I really felt awkward about that. I mean, it’s like, “Hello, Mayor, you don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but Dr. Bob said call, and I’ve got this statue here.” That’s what I did.

They had been wanting a lifesize statue of Shoeless Joe Jackson for two years. And, they asked me, would I be willing to do it. And, before I knew it, I had said, “Sure!” And then I thought, “Oh, wait a minute. I have never done a life-size sculpture before.” Now I had done full figures, and I had done life-size busts. But I had never done a full, life-size figure. So I called the foundry and said, you know, “Can I do this?” Then I called my former art teacher in North Carolina. “Oh, you can do this,” he said. “You got this. You can do this.”

So, with their help and their suggestions, I was able to get the whole thing basically done, the good majority of the clay put on, and I really didn’t have a place to finish it. Trying to do it in my garage, it just wasn’t working very well. The mayor’s assistant said, “Well, you can build it in the lobby of City Hall.” And I thought, “What?” You know, I was hoping for a bigger garage. So they gave me a key to City Hall. So people walking by, day and night, could watch me working on the statue. And I’d give everybody a piece of clay, and they could knead the clay and rub it in, and then I’d just blend it into the statue.

Years later, I took my dad to see the statue. While we were there, there were little kids there, and one of them came running up to me and said, “Do you remember me?” And he said, “I helped make that statue.” And I thought, “Well, good for you.” You know, that was really a good thing. But that’s how Shoeless Joe Jackson got started. And that’s sort of how my whole art thing got started and how it kept going.

Again, Dr. Bob was talking to the president of North Greenville. The president there was saying how he wanted to have another statue. So Dr. Bob said, “Well, why don’t you get Doug Young?”

I went out there and met Dr. Epting and talked to him. He said he wanted a praying hands Jesus. I really struggled with what to do with that piece. I wanted that moment in the Garden where He’s saying, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” I had done three or four mockups before and not really come up with anything I like. I was reading in the English Version for the Deaf how it says He fell down in an agony. That’s what I want. I want His hand on the rock, and I want Him looking up in agony.

I did a small scale model and took it to the president of North Greenville University. He was having a board meeting there, and I didn’t realize that. I thought I was just going to be taking it to him. He had everybody kind of gather around the table, and I walked in, and I had it covered up. He said, “I’ve asked Doug to do a praying hands Jesus.” And I thought, “Oh no. This is not maybe what he wanted.” But they all gathered around real close, and I uncovered it.

And one of the older gentlemen kind of gasps and steps back a little bit and starts to get tears in his eyes. And he said, “I can feel the agony in this.”

And I thought, “That’s what I want. You know, that’s—that’s exactly what I want to communicate. That He took on this for us.”

The biggest reward for an artist is to know that it’s really communicating what you’ve poured yourself into. None of us are perfect. You know, I think—I think what we’ve done before is, we have had a tendency to put other spiritual leaders up on pedestals. We raise and lower people according to what we think they do. But God doesn’t judge us on what we do but on who we are and how we’re related to Christ.

What I leave behind—the metal, pieces of metal, the paintings, the drawings, whatever—all that’s going to be burned up. That’s not important. What I leave behind is people. And what I can take with me to heaven is people.

Thank you for paying attention to the end.