“It’s my gift to future generations.” A remarkable man’s life and hobbies.
Most people pick a side of the brain and stick with it. As a high school science teacher, 86 year old Nate Sloan, whose art was never far from his lesson plans, made a life that continually crossed between the artistic and mathematical hemispheres of his brain.
A sculptor of Alabaster stone today, his first experimentation with art began by reproducing comics from the newspaper. He was mentored to the next level growing up in New York City by an art teacher in Jr. High, but adulthood meant making a living would have to take precedence. After returning from the war in 1945, Sloan would major in biology and accumulate enough credits to become a science teacher.
Turning educational theory into practice would also cause a shift in his priorities after landed a teaching job in Yonkers. “I fell in love with kids,” he says.
On the other hand, the heavy demand the teaching profession required didn’t mean he had to be monogamous when it came to the two passions. He used his classroom as a studio and partly canvassed the walls with two dimensional realism, which didn’t particularly please the school’s janitors.
But they weren’t the only ones ill at ease with his work. “I couldn’t do abstract, I enjoy it, I appreciated it, but I couldn’t do it,” he says.
So about 25 years ago, he stumbled upon his artistic emancipation by adding a dimension. “3D has freed me from realism and I don’t think I ever want to go back,” he says.
He credits an artist friend he used to play tennis with. Introducing him to the malleable clay and hard stone, Mr. Sloan says, “He said he made a monster of me because I was just producing and producing and producing.”
Sloan begins with the stone and right angles are definitely square when it comes to inspiration. I could never buy a squared off stone. I look for fractured pieces of stone whose outline has some appeal and an invitation of something I can bring out, he says.
He makes most of his purchases from a sculpture store north of Canal Street, but the mileage accumulated is definitely worth it when the actual journey is taken into account. “They have stones from all over the world,” he says. “It’s an adventure alone.”
Once home, the Heritage Hills resident follows the curves from all the angles and figures out how to enhance them. “I’m a chisel man,” he says, “and then its endless hours of sandpapering.”
In between, influences such as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore lets his admirers see right through his work – so to speak. “They were some of the first sculptors to put holes through stones and open up the inside,” he says.
All which is accomplished to the sound of his favorite music and the inner dialogue he has with poetry and nature. I think nature in its various forms somehow manages to influence what I’m doing. he says, At the same time, he adds, I’m also fond of poetry and the kind of movement one sees in this allows my work to eventually set in place.
Something he won’t be found doing very often. At it four or five days a week, he says, “I can’t stop.”
He also avoids immobility by competing in the Empire State Games as a runner and plays doubles tennis three times a week. But turning his stone to profit is another matter. “I’m not interested in making money off it,” he says, and has auctioned many pieces off on behalf of charities like The Friends of Karen and the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Otherwise, his pieces are part of an exhibit at the Katonah Library every September and a few reside at Putnam Hospital. Still, he wouldn’t mind lightening his condo of a few of them with a lend-lease program. I’d like to let people live with them for a few months at a minimum fee and then purchase if they want, he says.
If not, he doesn’t consider all the pieces around as excess and has no problem being among all the alabaster. “I love living with them,” he says, but he also knows his work is going to be around a lot longer than he will.
“It’s my gift to future generations,” he concludes.
Rich Monetti lives in Somers, New York. He graduated with a degree in Computer Science from Plattsburgh State but changed careers to journalism in 2003. When not working on features, he's honing a screenplay loosely and humorously based on Richard III, and the events that led up to his demise. You can follow him on his blog.