Arts Woman of steel

Sculptor Cakky Brawley bends metal to the community's will

Perhaps Cakky Brawley should consider booking a cruise in the future. The steel and aluminum sculptor, who shall remain ageless, has been inundated with personal and municipal projects for such a long time that physical escape might be the only way she could take time off. But then again, she wouldn't want it any other way; her inner workaholic has left its fingerprint on the San Antonio art scene.

Cakky Brawley stands in her Southtown art studio, which is filled with materials and works in progress. (Photos by Laura McKenzie)

"Art was around me all my life," Brawley says in passing. Ever since the Palo Alto College professor snuck into the metal shop in graduate school, art for Brawley has been about the transformation of raw material into sculptures thickly layered with meaning. Her 2002 sculpture depicting Saint Anthony at the San Antonio Grotto embodies the artist's unique vision for traditional subjects. "For me, it was about what was the right material for my idea. `Metal has` been technically and visually right for what I've wanted to do."

Saint Anthony and Brawley's other public installations also highlight her deference to the city in which she lives and works. Beyond its metallic exterior, the bench commissioned for a Blue Star Contemporary Art Center show, part of a body of work called Rest, represents transient joy in a transient location. "It has something to do with feeling a certain way for a moment," says Brawley, "it's about these little bits of moments that make up your life."

Like any perfectionist, Brawley took a long time just to scout the bench's location. Countless bike rides up and down South Alamo Street yielded a spot where workers often take a few minutes to rest during their busy days. "One thing that struck me was that it was for the people of San Antonio who work hard. It was a place of dignity for them," Brawley says.

"Rest," the metal sculpture and bench created by artist Cakky Brawley, is being stored at her studio until it becomes a permanent fixture at the corner of Alamo and Wickes in 2006.

Attorney and art patron Mike Casey liked Brawley's bench so much that he asked her to plant it in front of his South Alamo Street office. The permanent installation has been approved by the City, but Brawley says the project has taken, er, a back seat, to more pressing work. "Mike's been patiently waiting for it," says Brawley. She plans to complete the installation in 2006.

Brawley likes to add another dimension to art by making it more accessible. With a body of work that is comprised mostly of municipal projects and studio tours for anyone who is interested, she's here to enlighten as well as engage. Throwing formality and pretenses aside, Brawley emphasizes that we all have a role to play in this often remote vocation.

"We all have our place in the art world, and that's what makes it work," she says cheerfully. While Brawley is on the subject, she also wants to demystify the academic side of art. She is quick to appreciate the contributions of every artist, whether they work in traditional media or not, pointing out that for every movement that defined art history, there also were those rogue spirits that carved a niche for themselves.

"It's not about fear of art, but it's so far removed from the public. Once people realize that it's around them, they want to know. It's about educating the public," Brawley contends. "They think it belongs in another world and that's just not the case."

With another City project in the works with Beaty and Partners Architects at Stinson Field municipal airport, Brawley continues to be a vital part of the city's growing arts community. Yet amid credentials that would make Alexander Calder tip his hat, she still gives the credit to the place that made it all possible.

"The nature of this city allows it to just thrive," she says. "Everybody is supportive of each other and there is a genuine sense of community ... I've been a recipient of that."

Perhaps after the next municipal commission, school semester, and trip to the hardware store, she can take some personal time ... but the chances are not looking too good just yet.