Sculptor Ron Kane, from apprenticeships to “Gates of Paradise”

MUD WORKS: Ron Kane sculpts in the live-work space he owns in Candler. Photo by Sarah Whelan

Ron Kane worked as a carpenter on more than 38 movie sets and for four years apprenticed to Egyptian King Faruq’s sculptor Mustaf Naguib, but his career came to a sudden halt when he injured his spine. Kane has since settled in a Candler-based warehouse-turned-living space where he crafts wooden artwork for customers. He has also created The Next Step for Humanity — the first of a 50-sculpture series called “Gates of Paradise” — and practices a low-key lifestyle he discovered through Sufism.

Kane built his first structure, a tree fort, as a child in inner-city Chicago. He used lumber that he and his friends stole from nearby construction sites, only to disassemble and return each piece when his parents found out where the lumber came from.

Although an A student in school, Kane gleaned little in his college’s art program that he could apply to life.  He learned most about woodcarving and sculpting from hands-on work at apprenticeships he landed with Naguib and the Boston Ship Carvers Guild. “In [art] college, they say, ‘Do anything you want,'” Kane says. “‘We’re going to teach you creativity.’ But you can do what you want for free and not pay college tuition. … You get an apprenticeship and you get in there and start swimming or you’re going to sink.”

As a trained carpenter, Kane found himself tasked with complicated Boston — and soon Chicago — movie sets’ key projects. One of Kane’s most challenging movie projects was an acrylic statue he sculpted for My Best Friend’s Wedding. “I turned into one big blister,” Kane says. “I spent too much time with it, sanding it, all that kind of stuff.”

Kane worked on movie sets for more than 35 years, but he was forced to end his career in the film industry when he fell from a ladder on the set of Road to Perdition. “At the end of it, taking it down, a hand rail came off of my hand, I fell backwards and 12 surgeries later I’m still all messed up,” Kane says. “But oh well. Keep going. What the heck you going to do? Be miserable? I’m going to be happy anyway.”

Kane retired to a blueberry farm in Leicester, but his weak spine prevented him from completing the many projects he had planned. When he sold the farm and recruited a cousin and building crew for help, he turned an 8,000-square foot wood shop in Candler into his largest work of art to date. Gazebos with intricate lattice work line the triple front door entryway and the staircase handrail features delicate geometrics.

Photo by Sarah Whelan
STILL LIFE: The Next Step for Humanity, Ron Kane’s first piece in a series called “Gates of Paradise.” It features the morning exercise, one Kane practice to center attention to the self. Photo by Sarah Whelan

Downstairs is filled with past relics and current projects. The first installment to Kane’s most recent endeavor, “Gates of Paradise,” one he says will take the rest of his life to complete, sits in a shadowed corner all to itself. “The Last Step for Humanity” is a life-sized clay statue of a woman suspended on air in a position Kane calls the morning exercise, a meditation he practices to center attention to the self. “You go around in a circle and when you’re done, you’re in a collected state of attention,” Kane says. “You’re making yourself into a magnet. It’s all about electricity, which is real.”

Kane discovered Sufism when he began studying religions outside of his Chicago neighborhood norms. “My dad was Jewish, my mom was Catholic,” he says. “I didn’t have a religion, but what a great thing because I didn’t get any stuff shoved down my throat about religion. I just got to study and watch all the religions.”

Kane drew inspiration for “Gates of Paradise” from Rodin’s “The Gates of Hell” as well as Sufism. For the series, Kane plans to sculpt a statue named “Don’t Think, Realize,” and the last piece in the series will be named “When You Can Hold On To Pleasure, You’ve Got Nothing Left to Learn,” but he can only work an hour a day because of his injuries. Also, purchasing bronze is expensive. Still, Kane finds that molds have a story worth telling in their unfinished state.

“The molds are more beautiful than the pieces themselves,” Kane says. “People don’t get to see the molds.”

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About Samantha Glaspy
I hail from Hendersonville, N.C., attend Appalachian State University for journalism and am currently an intern at Mountain Xpress. Follow me @samglaspy

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