Whether Chad Fisher is creating a 36-inch bronze likeness of George H. Boker, a founder and early president of The Union League of Philadelphia, or a larger-than-life memorial of decorated World War II hero William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, his commitment to capturing a person’s essence through the fine art of sculpting remains unwavering.
According to the 32-year-old figurative artist, there’s a vast difference between replicating an image or portrait and bringing it to life through an intensely arduous yet creative process. “I am not an illustrator or duplicator,” explained Chad, who often spends 12 hours a day honing his craft from his 1,000-square-foot studio near his home in a Harrisburg, PA, suburb, where he resides with his wife and daughters—ages nine years, seven years and five months.
The idea of grabbing a paintbrush and splashing paint on a big piece of paper is not authentic art, notes Chad, underscoring that no one has the talent of Michelangelo; but rather it’s about continually striving. “My work is that of a true artist, “ he said. “Every stage—from design to carving, to clay modeling, casting, chasing and patina—is performed by my hands alone.”
No wonder the award-winning sculptor has been making a name for himself in the region and beyond. It’s not every day an artist can transform his craft into a livelihood. For Chad, with his imposing bronze and stone creations coupled with stints teaching intensive workshops at Philadelphia’s Studio Incamminati, it seems to be working.
“I think the face of the art world is changing,” said Chad, who has observed a “figurative arts Renaissance” and a resurgence of appreciation for the classical on both coasts of the United States. He cites cities such as Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia as having the information and education available for figurative artists to thrive.
A South Jersey native who spent much of his youth in Moorestown, Cherry Hill and East Hanover, NJ, his commissioned pieces run the gamut. His impressive résumé includes projects for the Moorestown Community House, Comcast Spectacor, NFL Films, the Wild Bill Guarnere Memorial Fund, The Union League of Philadelphia and Chicago Bears Football Club.
According to his father, Fran Fisher, a longtime Moorestown resident, technology professional and artist who has become his son’s project manager over the last two years: “Chad is one of only a few sought after figurative monument sculptors with museum quality work in fine art galleries [throughout the nation]. His international Seven Deadly Sins series has sold out of full editions.”
In 2013, Chad approached Moorestown Community House board member Haynes Hendrickson about having an art show inside the building. Instead, the idea for a permanent sculpture was born. Moorestown Memories, a life-size piece depicting five children running, was erected outside the historic building. “The sculpture represents past, present and future generations,” explained Chad. “Moorestown is a wonderful town with a sincere interest in the arts.” And the town actually has some fun with the sculpture, adorning it with festive clothing like hats and scarves depending upon the holiday.
Creating sports-related monuments has recently evolved into a specialty niche for the artist who loves athletics: “In high school, I ran track, played football and swam,” said Chad. “I wasn’t a star; I was a contributor.”
Other highlights of his in the area include an eight-foot bronze memorial of co-founder Steve Sabol outside NFL Films in Mount Laurel, NJ, a statue of NHL legend Fred Shero in front of Philadelphia’s XFINITY Live and a larger-than-life piece just unveiled in August for the Chicago Bears Football Club of football pioneer, Hall of Famer and NFL co-founder George S. Halas.
Chad’s ability to capture a person’s essence has been evoking awe and admiration. According to John J. Meko, Jr., executive director of The Foundations of The Union League of Philadelphia: “We had been talking about a sculpture and looking for a way to commemorate the end of the Civil War and the opening of the building [both in 1865].” The league was founded in 1862 to support the policies of President Abraham Lincoln and to win the Civil War, he explains. Special events for the 150th anniversary have been ongoing throughout the year.
“We like to find new artists,” continued Meko, adding that several League members were familiar with Chad’s work. He was commissioned by the Abraham Lincoln Foundation to create a memorial of Boker. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful piece,” said Meko of the sculpture unveiled in April. “As a young artist, Chad seems to be getting better and better.” Meko was impressed with Chad’s interest in collaboration and his ability to capture the expression of this “fascinating personality.” “Boker is looking up and forward,” said Meko, describing his gaze as celebratory at winning the war.
The piece will soon be permanently located on the ground floor—accessible to the public (see box)—next to a painting of the League and a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln by Daniel Chester French, renowned for creating the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Each commission holds a special significance for the sculptor. Yet, Chad shares that he is profoundly inspired by “those that have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.” His respect for veterans led him to donate his labor (not materials) to the family of the late “Wild Bill” Guarnere, who passed away at 90 in March 2014. Gene Guarnere, 69, of Broomall, son of the South Philadelphia native who lost a leg on the battlefield while saving one of his best friends, is amazed at Chad’s unique ability. The eight-foot, three-inch bronze sculpture of his father standing on one leg, holding crutches was unveiled September 19 at the Delaware County Veterans Memorial in Newtown Square.
As a teen, Chad learned of the war hero through the HBO series “Band of Brothers,” narrated by Tom Hanks. He often watched the series with his dad and brother. “It was a time for family bonding,” remembered Chad, adding that many family members served in the military, including his paternal grandfather, who fought in World War II.
Chad met Gene in the spring of 2014, beginning a collaboration to memorialize the “Band of Brothers” member of the 101st Airborne, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Easy Company. Chad studied multiple photographs of Guarnere and prior to the sculpture completed a portrait study, which won an international award from the National Portrait Society. “It is among Chad’s finest portraits created,” said Fran.
According to Gene: “It looks just like him. Chad captured his head tilted in just the right way and all the wrinkles in his face and on his coat. It’s like he’s in the room with me. It’s uncanny.”
Chad says he sought the best training available for the figurative arts. From 2003 to 2007, he was enrolled in a collaborative program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Pennsylvania. In 2007, he received a Certificate in Sculpture. He also attended the Schuylkill Academy of Fine Arts, numerous schools of art, specialty workshops, programs and private study/apprenticeships with accomplished sculptors. His greatest mentor was his former Pennsylvania Academy professor Gary Weisman, whom he describes as one of the leading figurative artists in the world. “I met the right person who taught me just about everything under the sun,” said Chad, who apprenticed with Weisman on and off from 2004 to 2012. “Seventy-five percent of what I know comes from him.”
Chad describes a true work of art as making an inanimate object animate. “It’s about taking all the information that’s been presented to you and then trying to create something.”
Whether it’s a portrait for a gallery or a large memorial, when Chad fashions a sculpture for someone that reminds him/her of a loved one, the result is extremely gratifying. “It gives me a sense that I’ve done something.”
Chad credits his dad as a major influence. Fran introduced Chad and his younger brother, Alex, to the arts. Chad recalls sculpting at age seven: “My brother and I would spend time with our dad drawing and sculpting.” And Chad knew from a very young age that he would one day become an artist. “Sculpting,” he explained, “is very important to me; it’s something I need to do to be centered in life.”
Although Fran studied illustration and fine arts—along with finance—in college and did some freelance work for newspapers and magazines, he said: “Chad had a higher intellectual curiosity.
“I remember when he was about 19 or 20,” continued Fran. “We were in the car getting ready to return to Syracuse University for the fall semester. Chad asked me to turn the car off because he had something very important to discuss. He turned to me and said, ‘I want to be a sculptor.’” Chad did not return to Syracuse. From that day forward, Fran supported his son’s career pursuit, well aware of his talent. “His portraitures are number one; they’re as good as anyone in the world. Chad is one of the very few that does the entire process [of creating a sculpture] themselves. Most people have teams. Chad’s work has his fingerprints on it.” When you look closely, Fran explains, you can literally see Chad’s thumbprints in the clay. Likening this style to Rodin, Fran says that many today produce wax museum type replicas. At the time of the Renaissance, he adds, artists like Chad were revered; actually held in higher social regard than surgeons.
Gene Guarnere predicts that Chad will become a world-renowned sculptor. “One day in the future someone will lift up one of his [smaller] pieces and say: ‘Oh my God, this is a Chad Fisher.’”