It is only fitting that Walter S. Massey was born in a town called Florence – Florence, South Carolina – for, the magic of another Florence between 1300 and 1600, where Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo spent many productive years, has a profound influence on this modern artist and sculptor. Raised in a rural community by an artistic family, Walter first took up pencil and brush at a very early age, spending hours at his grandmother’s elbow as, from her garden, she created beautiful “floral snapshots” in oils and acrylics. In his later youth, Walter’s interest turned to more “structural” media in the building of intricate model ships, automobiles and airplanes and, eventually, in copying historical armor and weaponry.
Having lived in various parts of the United States, travel has always been a part of Walter’s life. His academic studies and military service took him from the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia through Texas and California to the Pacific Northwest where he completed his undergraduate training and took up graduate studies at Seattle Pacific University. On display at Seattle Pacific University’s McKenna Hall is “The Falconer”, a larger than life sculpture created in 1982.
“A true student of the 1970’s, I spent nearly the entire decade traveling, studying and ‘searching for myself’ – searching for a vocation by which to make my way in the world and provide for my family. Result: exhaustion.
Thus began a hiatus from my studies in psychology and counseling into the comforting and familiar arms of my avocation – the visual arts. I’ve been there ever since, still traveling, still studying and still doing a little self-searching. Result: a wide range of work – designs fabricated primarily in copper from whimsical garden stakes to architectural enhancements for garden and home as well as larger-than-life figurative sculpture.”
During his academic journey at SPU, Walter first began designing and making “small sculpture” jewelry in silver while structuring a self-directed study program in art history and technique that has contributed immeasurably to his development as a metal sculptor and craftsman. His journey has taken him across the United States, to Europe and the Middle East.
Walter’s experience and study provide a variety of subjects from mythology and literature to history and nature, as well as the inspiration provided by his predecessors and contemporaries in the arts. He is especially driven by his own desire to discover and create, causing him to expand over the years into several artistic avenues in metals, the scope of his ability seemingly limitless.
His work in Seattle began with the silver jewelry and moved quickly into casting, by the lost wax method, 6-8 inch one-of-a-kind figures in pewter and bronze. His first serious work consisted of three sets of biblical figures displayed at three private showings in 1976, 1977 and 1978 in the university community where he lived and studied. During this time he also produced a series of small figures for his own collection inspired by J. R. R. Tolkein’s trilogy, Lord of the Rings. Between 1976 and 1980, Walter produced no less than eighty small original bronze and pewter pieces, from one-of-a-kind jewelry sculpture to 6-8 inch figures.
In 1978 he returned to the home where he first began painting with this grandmother and, interrupting the production of figures by traditional casting methods, embarked on the task of developing his military training as a welder into a less costly way of producing large metal sculpture and still evoke fine art. He began by working on detailed figures from nature, constantly developing more and better ways to fabricate figures “ in the round”.
His work led Walter to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina where his fabricated, three-dimensional birds of prey became beautiful weathervanes that suggested historical reproduction. Other architectural enhancements included lamps, lanterns, chandeliers and wrought iron gates, decorative fireplace doors and other accents. This line of work afforded him the framework necessary to create his own technical process and expand his design capabilities with proportion, suggestion and detail to communicate beauty, strength and sensitivity through metal.
Walter’s artistic expression utilizes a medium common today but, not unlike that Florentine spirit of a glorious age gone by, is motivated by the same discipline and untiring perseverance to shape beauty from a seemingly unusable mass. He has developed a naturalness and rightness of form in his work that is innately classic with a fresh individual viewpoint not unlike the perseverant pioneering spirit still found in the Pacific Northwest.
It is no wonder then, that Walter was drawn to return here in 1997. He currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington, where, assisted primarily by his three apprentice sons, he has continued to expand his skills to larger and more varied pieces of architectural art for the beautiful homes and gardens of Washington State.
Walter’s work has been shown in various art centers, galleries and shops on both the east and west coasts of the United States. Pieces are owned and displayed by private collectors in 23 states and four countries. Pieces are also on public display in Washington, Oregon, Connecticut, West Virginia, Texas, Florida and North and South Carolina.