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Sculptor tells how he shaped career

November 4, 2012
By JOHN BORGOLINI , The Leader Herald

JOHNSTOWN - The key to success as an artist is effort, Wells resident and internationally known sculptor John Van Alstine told his audience on Saturday.

A crowd of about 20 practicing and aspiring artists and connoisseurs listened as Van Alstine spoke at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, sharing his insights into the world of an always-working sculptor.

The talk was part of the Sixth Annual Arts Career Symposium, sponsored by Arts in Motion - formerly known as MECCA. Van Alstine's presentation spanned his 40 years working with stones, bronze and wood explaining that to be an artist, you have to find your voice, your studio and your inspirations.

Article Photos

Artist John Van Alstine of Wells speaks at FMCC on Saturday evening. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)

"The work isn't going to make itself. It doesn't come in a eureka moment," Van Alstine said. "It comes in doing it every day ... I think there is a certain work ethic. It's not going to just get done. You have to go out and work at it ... As an artist you don't really finish. You keep going and going and going."

Van Alstine said he wasn't interested in art until, as a college student, he took a sculpture class as an elective, and that's when things took off for him creatively.

Attending school as a student-athlete devoted to skiing, he realized the sport was taking away from his education, and he found something he loved to do in sculpting.

FMCC President Dustin Swanger introduced Van Alstine and spoke of the time they first met, when the artist helped him choose a spot for a recent sculpture he purchased.

Swanger said he was very impressed with Van Alstine's dedication to his work.

"His passion for art really came through. It just tells you how dedicated he is," Swanger said. "It's really amazing to have an artist like him in this area."

Van Alstine's work is displayed in Smithsonian museums, in Beijing, at Michigan State University and all over the continental United States.

He recently co-created a 9/11 memorial sculpture installed in a park in Saratoga Springs.

Van Alstine said the inspiration for his sculptures - which are often large and consist of metal and stone -comes both from landscape and dance.

"I'm always trying to take the choreography and move it with the bending of the steel," he said. "Getting these heavy pieces of stone in the air gives a sense of irony."

He used to live and work in New York City, but he said he loved the Adirondacks. The reach that the Internet gives him made it possible for Van Alstine to move back to the mountains.

And this area is the best studio setting for him - a very important part of being an artist, he said.

"You need to find a place to work. You need to find a studio," he said. "It can't just be your kitchen table ... I mentioned the Western landscape, but the Eastern landscape is really amazing. The river I live on is a never-ending inspiration. Have fun and always be thinking about the environment you live in."

Van Alstine also advised aspiring artists to always draw and photograph their pieces.

He said his early drawings were a really "tight" reflection of the work he was doing early on, but as he grew as an artist, his drawings became looser and were finally two-dimensional interpretations of the three-dimensional pieces he would complete.

For more information about Van Alstine and his work, see his website,

John Borgolini can be reached by email at



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