Monday, July 20, 2020

INTERVIEW: Martin Dawe, Cherrylion Studios

I've been a fan of sculptor Martin Dawe for more than two decades, before I even knew it. Founder of Cherrylion Studios, Martin's sculptures are sublime works of art beautifying Metro Atlanta, the Southeast, and other locales in the United States and beyond. Primarily a commissioned artist, Martin's work brilliantly bridges commercial art and fine art.

Martin graciously granted me an interview, which I'm excited to share with you...

Martin Dawe, Cherrylion Studios | Photo by Jen DePlour
Martin Dawe, Cherrylion Studios | Photo by Jen DePlour

wanderlust ATLANTAWhere are you from? When did you move to Atlanta and why? What’s something about you that Atlanta doesn’t already know?

Martin Dawe: I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. My parents are from London, but I grew up in New Jersey. My father worked off Wall Street. I attended a progressive high school. I recall one of my teachers asking why I had not requested a letter of recommendation for art school. I was too "chicken" to immediately go to art school and instead went to the University of Maine where I studied Forestry Science for two years. 

Later I transferred to Boston University where I studied art. It offered instruction in figurative art, classical training. It was when I was there in 1979 that I fell in love and I moved to Atlanta for that love. 

wanderlust ATLANTA: What was the catalyst that led you to becoming a sculptor?

Martin Dawe: I'd always wanted to make art. By time I got to Boston University, I was better at sculpting than any other medium. My brain worked—and works—better in 3D. 

While attending Georgia State, I landed an apprenticeship under Julian Harris, who was 72-years-old at the time, the first sculptor in Georgia to make a living in that profession, all commissions! Mr Harris graduated from GA Tech in 1928, then got an art degree in Philly, came back to Atlanta and his fraternity brothers commissioned him for many years.

wanderlust ATLANTA: Michelangelo said, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." With what philosophy do you approach your art?

Martin Dawe: Although I work in a number of mediums, I prefer to work with clay. World-renowned French sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, who taught Auguste Rodin, spoke of not sculpting dead, static material, but that all form has a speed and direction. That resonated with me and has inspired my artistic creation throughout my career.

"Landing Gear" by Martin Dawe, Cherrylion Studios | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
"Landing Gear" by Martin Dawe, Cherrylion Studios | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

"Landing Gear", a 12-feet tall stainless steel sculpture created in 2008, is Dawe's favorite. It's located at Terminus Atlanta in the heart of Buckhead. When competing for the commission, Dawe acknowledged the fast-pace decision-making of developers and instead of showing his portfolio, presented "Landing Gear", a piece he'd previous conceptualized but had not produced. As expected, the developer made a expedited decision. Dawe's "Landing Gear" is now enjoyed daily by a number of Atlanta's prestigious companies and their visitors.


wanderlust ATLANTA: You’ve shared before that “Landing Gear” is your favorite of your own work. Why is it your favorite?

Martin Dawe: "Landing Gear" was a spiritual piece for me. I ventured heavily in spiritual quests in high school and college. For this particular piece, when bidding to be the sculptor whose work would grace the new Terminus Atlanta building, I bypassed my portfolio and conceived this, so you could say that it's site-specific. This feeds into your last question, too. It was a piece where I had the opportunity for "creating speed and direction".

wanderlust ATLANTA: Who is your favorite sculptor in the world?

Martin Dawe: Javier MarĂ­na figurative sculptor from Mexico. His work is almost unbelievable! It's personal, inventive, and monumental. His studio is a complex with an amazing courtyard. Take a look at his work and you'll see what I mean. I'm also a huge fan of Polish sculptor Grzegorz Gwiazda, who is also a figurative artist. I’m basically a figurative artist, too.

"Martin Luther King, Jr. State Capitol Memorial" by Martin Dawe, Cherrylion Studios | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. State Capitol Memorial" by Martin Dawe, Cherrylion Studios
Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

The "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. State Capitol Memorial" is an 8-feet tall bronze on a 3-feet tall marble base engraved with gold lettering. The overall pose is based on one of Dr. King walking out of the Alabama’s Montgomery County Courthouse. Dr King has a very difficult face to sculpt because there are a number of concave shapes and photos don’t show concave shapes well. I played a video of him from an interview he did on the sidewalk after the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. The lighting and camera angle are perfect, and he moves his head back and forth. I played it in slow motion on repeat mode hundreds of times.

wanderlust ATLANTA: Which of your works has had the greatest impact on an individual, corporation, or community?

Martin Dawe: In a city that so many African-Americans call home, perhaps ground zero of the Civil Right Movement, it wasn't until 2017 that the Georgia State Capitol installed a statue on its grounds celebrating one of her own African-American citizens, the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The dedication was timely, too, only two weeks after the deadly neo-natzi hate crime in Charlottesville, Virginia. When protests for removing Confederate monuments were highly escalated, the installation of a statue celebrating the greatest Civil Rights leader in history made national and international news, feeding important conversations. 

"Dogwood Bench" by Martin Dawe | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
"Dogwood Bench" by Martin Dawe | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

"Dogwood Bench" was a gift to Piedmont Park from and on the 80th anniversary of the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. Piedmont Park is the home of the annual festival. Dedicated in 2016, this interactive bronze has a magnificent backdrop, the Midtown Atlanta skyline!


wanderlust ATLANTA: The first time I met you was at the dedication of “Dogwood Bench” in Piedmont Park. Is being so personable and charming something that came naturally for you? What is your favorite way to interact with potential clients?

Martin Dawe: Okay, make me blush! That's just who I am. It's the way I was raised. I have a compassionate, wonderful, and loving mother, and four siblings. My mom is 100% love. She passionately disliked housework and anything typical of a "housewife". She ran girl scout and cub scout troops and school programs. She's unselfish, doesn't like attention on her...she's the very definition of humble.

There's already so much amazing art out there, I think I would get bored creating while isolated in a studio. There are those who look at commissioned artists with disdain—some are outright snobs—but I enjoy collaborating with clients. It fits my personality and it energized me.

"Hope" by Martin Dawe | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
"Hope" by Martin Dawe | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

"Hope" is a life-size, bronze of a young girl with a bird perched on her hand. Situated in the center of the Carter Center Rose Garden, this sculpture, installed in 2007, was commissioned by Mrs. J.B. Fuqua in memory of her husband. This is one of the first Martin Dawe sculptures I'd ever seen, before I knew about Cherrylion Studios.


wanderlust ATLANTA: What’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes story from one of your sculptures?

Martin Dawe: When conceptualizing a sculpture for the Carter Center I got to meet with former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. I'd researched the Center's website and came up with a concept that I felt was reflective of the international work the Center has done. After presenting my concepts, Mrs. Carter arrived, with full Secret Service entourage, and told me, "I've worked with people all of my life. When I go into this garden, I just want to see something pretty."  

wanderlust ATLANTA: What’s the most bizarre, kookiest, weird sculpture request you’ve ever received?

Martin Dawe: There really haven't been many, but there was that one time when I was asked to do a life-cast of a husband and wife having sex. That didn't go beyond a two-second conversation!

There are few sculptors who make a living at their art. I worked as a professional sculptor for eight years before making a profit. In the beginning, I made a lot of props for film, television, commercials, billboards, the holidays, and trade shows. I did get to do some work for Madonna's 1990 "Blond Ambition Tour", which was quite memorable. 

I can never forget creating a 12-feet wide McDonald's hamburger for a trade show promoting a new burger. The product flopped, but making that 12-feet wide burger survives in my memory.

That particular industry was very commercial. I wasn't happy and many of the people I encountered in that industry hated what they were doing. I'm grateful to be where I am now.  

"Prince of Wale's World Athletes Monument" by Martin Dawe | Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
"Prince of Wale's World Athletes Monument" by Martin Dawe
Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

The "Prince of Wale's World Athletes Monument" is located at the north intersection of Peachtree Street and West Peachtree Street. It was commissioned by the Prince of Wales Foundation for Architecture. These five 8-feet tall, bronze atlas figures on a 43-feet tall limestone base are well-known by people who lived here in 1996, during the Centennial Olympic Games. The monument was again in the news in 1997 when Princess Diana was tragically killed. Atlantans chose this site to show their grief with flowers and memorabilia laid at the base of the monument. Commissioned by the Prince of Wales Foundation for Architecture.


The current COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Cherrylion Studios. Typically they have 4-12 commissions going at the same time. They've had only 1 in the last three months—a bronze of a 1920s dancing couple! The day of this interview they received a new commission, an award commemorating a local philanthropist that we Atlantans know quite well. 

I hope you'v enjoyed getting to know Martin and hope you'll treat yourself to an adventure to discover the amazing collection of Martin Dawe sculptures right here in Atlanta!

Although considerably too early to ask about his legacy, I asked anyway, given Martin's prolific collection of works. His fatherly answer: "My kids. My twins are my legacy."

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