Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Heidi Uotila

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Heidi Uotila’s art has always been a bit beastly. As a grade-schooler in Ohio, she was once disciplined for drawing animals in class. The punishment didn’t deter her. Today, the Ohio State University-trained artist focuses all of her artistic energy on animals. Art Gone Wild, an exhibit featuring more than 20 of Uotila’s handcrafted ceramic and bronze sculptures, is on view in Terminal 4 of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport through March 10. Part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Phoenix Zoo, the show includes zebras, tigers, giraffes and more, corralling a mini menagerie for air travelers.

“They are beautiful creatures and so challenging to sculpt,” says Uotila, 57, whose client list includes former President George W. Bush.   

Eschewing the use of molds, Uotila employs stainless steel dental tools to craft the animals’ delicate facial features. The clay is fired to 2,261 degrees Fahrenheit and painted with oils.

Uotila honed her ability to capture animal likenesses during a series of safaris, from Alaska to Africa. In Canada, she once coaxed a white rhino to model as she sculpted her first bronze from life. That rhino got her accepted into the prestigious Society of Animal Artists. The Glendale resident, who also teaches art at Liberty High School in Peoria, remembers her odd-toed ungulate model well. “I would call him by name,” Uotila says. “He would come to the fence and I would sculpt.”