This article was published in the Summer 2013 issue of The Baylor Line and written by Lisa Asher.
Sculptor Dan Brook’s work draws upon his Native American roots and his love for a medium that “lasts forever.”
Dan Brook ’83 speaks in a halting style with a low, gravelly voice. He contemplates questions carefully before giving an answer. It’s easy to picture him holed up in his Dallas art studio, working in isolation on a complicated project, like the eighteen pieces he created for the recently renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium at TCU.
What’s difficult to imagine is Brook sweating it out on a football field in front of thousands of screaming fans. But that’s exactly where he started his Baylor career, playing under Coach Grant Teaff. “We had some good years,” says Brook, who was a member of the 1980 team that won the Southwest Conference championship and played in the Cotton Bowl.
Still, it must have seemed a world away from his early years growing up on a ranch in Okemah, Oklahoma. Brook is a member of the Muscogee-Creek Nation, and his father was a second-generation rancher and cowboy. “Native American people are typically pretty quiet, meditative kind of people,” Brook says.
From a young age, he channeled his own inner thoughts into sketching. “My earliest memories are of drawing,” he says. “It was always second nature to me to occupy myself that way.” But when it came time to declare a major at Baylor, he chose psychology, not art.
“I was convinced by that lie that if you were an artist, you were starving,” Brook says. “My mother was always trying to convince me to develop my skill, but I guess I drank the Kool-Aid.”
After graduating from Baylor, Brook eschewed both psychology and art for a career in commercial real estate. “I made really good money, but actually I was really unhappy doing it,” says Brook, recalling the booming Dallas real estate market of the 1980s. So after a few years, he took a leap and “dropped out,” as he puts it. “Once I took a sculpture class, I walked out of that class calling myself an artist. And one day I finally was.”
But that “one day” was a long time coming. For ten years, Brook admits, he lived below the poverty line while he developed as an artist and apprenticed with the renowned portrait sculptor B. N. Walker.
Brook says he can still remember the first time he saw someone sculpting. “I was just immediately drawn to that like a magnet,” he says. “Sculpture lasts forever. It’s impervious to the elements. It’s a statement that allows us to record important people and important events, important milestones—that’s what I think I’m drawn to about it.”
Brook says he very rarely sketches ideas anymore, instead preferring to start the sculpting process in clay. “My imagination skills or my visual skills in my head are so strong that I don’t really need to sketch anything,” he says. “I see it in my head. I just go from there.”
Brook first garnered recognition in the artistic community for his busts of Native American leaders, including his first commissioned piece for the Creek Nation. “I think where my artistic skill really comes from is native peoples, who, in general, are extremely gifted with their hands and in the arts,” Brook says. “And native people . . . don’t just respect the art, but they respect the artist.”
Slowly but surely, Brook has expanded his repertoire to include both figurative and con-temporary styles, working in terra cotta, bronze, marble, and Lucite. His commissions have taken him around the country and to far-flung locations like Romania, where he’s currently working on a piece for the Agape Children’s Home, and to Kurdistan for a high-profile project he’s not allowed to discuss.
Brook knows that in a difficult economy, many artists struggle for work. “Last year was a rough year for a lot of artists, but I’ve never been busier,” he says. “I’ve never had a larger budget to work with, so I’m just really thankful.”
Much of that success is due to his own marketing abilities. “I consider myself a small business-man; my medium just happens to be art,” says Brook, who credits his time in the business world for his ability to market both himself and his work. “I think that one mistake a lot of artists make is that everyone just wants to be in their studio to work, including me. But there has to be a business coefficient in there if you want to exist as an artist.”
After looking at a few of Brook’s pieces, you’ll understand why fellow sculptor David Spence says, “There is an inner power in Dan’s portraiture work.”
Lisa Asher ’89, MA ’99, is associate editor of the Baylor Line and teaches writing as an adjunct professor in the Department of English at Baylor Uni-versity. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1996.