Chipping Away

JOHN LIBBERTON HAS packed several lifetimes of success into his 92 years. He helped pioneer TV commercials with Foote, Cone and Belding, gave that up after 30 years to do voice-overs for radio and all the while was (ahem) carving out a career as a sculptor, working on mega-size pieces of marble in Carrara, Italy, and on smaller ones in his home studio. Locally, his iconic sail sculpture “Bolinar — Close to the Wind” anchors the northern entrance to downtown Sausalito. Before we talk about sculpture, we have to ask: were those early years of TV advertising just like Mad Men? Oddly, I never watched Mad Men. It’s available for download and I plan to do that. How long have you been sculpting? All my life, 50 or 60 years, even between trips while I was working at the ad agency. I started out doing wood carving and then graduated to marble. Why marble? Marble is a wonderful material. One of my favorite marbles is Italian statuario, which is the warm, white marble that Michelangelo used for the “Pieta” and the “David.” I also like Thassos marble, which is from the Greek island of that name. It’s a warm, white marble, very fine-grained. Did you study sculpture? No, never. We all used to carve something out of a piece of soap in grammar school. Didn’t you do that? Do you have a favorite tool? I don’t have one favorite tool. Many tools are important for each job — diamond saws, pneumatics, grinders, hammers, points, sanders. All are important and necessary for each project. How can an artist be commercially successful? You have to be very talented and very good; otherwise it’s a terrible waste of time. Some people think they’re doing good work and they may sell it to friends, but they’re not going to sell it commercially. Artistically, have you changed since you were younger? I’ve always liked simplicity and I like geometric forms. That is what I enjoy best. You’re drawn to classic shapes. Very true, very true. But, I don’t like to do anything that’s derivative. I like them to be unique to me. What’s been the most interesting thing about your life? I haven’t thought about that. I’ve had such a varied life doing sculpture, jewelry, painting, doing voice-overs and television production, and traveling. It’s been special, to have all these varied interests and being pretty successful at all of them. And here you are. Yes, I am. I’m still doing it.

John Libberton, sculptor, Sausalito,