Robert Blood’s art is familiar to most Capital Region residents, even if they’re not aware of the artist.
It can be seen in the Rose Garden at Schenectady’s Central Park, in the form of a graceful and intricate sculpture based on the Chinese character Yuan, and at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Albany, in the form of a smooth and curvy 16-foot sculpture called “Portal.” Visitors to the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady can walk through the 13-foot sculpture “Sanctuary,” which looks like an especially beautiful piece of playground equipment, while Blood’s sculpture “The Family,” which depicts a man, woman and child, can be viewed at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center.
“ ‘The Family’ is my masterpiece,” Blood said, during an interview about his life and work.
A sculpture festival honoring Blood will be held later this week.
As part of the festival, his work will be on display at the Promenade Art Gallery on Jay Street in Schenectady from 3 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and at his home gallery at 1218 Regent St. in Niskayuna on Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.
“I hope people bring an open mind, and I hope they’re moved,” Blood said.
Blood grew up at the house on Regent Street, and it’s easy to recognize as the residence of an artist. Six of his large-scale steel sculptures adorn the lawn, including the striking “Three Fates,” in which three figures appear to be sharing secrets.
Now 89, Blood is still making art, though he no longer welds or brazes and his pace is slower than it once was. But he has continued to explore his longstanding themes and interests, such as the female body, in smaller sculptures and drawings.
Blood said as an artist, he is “drawn to shape and space.”
“Form is a language,” he said. “And language changes and develops. You add new words.”
When he was younger, “I would work 14 hours a day,” Blood recalled. “It was wonderful. The momentum poured out of me.” In recent years, “I’ve slowed down a bit,” partly due to arthritis and breaking his back about 10 years ago. “When I look at my portfolio, I marvel at it.” His earlier work was produced by “another person. There’s the me then, and the me now.”
The Robert Blood Sculpture Festival is sponsored by the Promenade Art Gallery, which is owned by Blood’s friends and neighbors, Aliza and Embarek Mesbahi.
Aliza Mesbahi said she first became aware of Blood’s work when her husband purchased one of Blood’s sculptures at an estate sale; the couple was surprised to learn that Blood “lived right around the corner.”
Mesbahi said Blood’s subject matter has been consistent.
“The common theme is his love affair with the female form,” she said.
She described Blood as an amazing and humble person who “feels so fortunate to have lived the life he’s lived. He’s going to keep on creating these sculptures, and he feels blessed to keep on doing it.”
Today Blood walks with a bit of a stoop, but he remains spry and energetic, quick to laugh and tell jokes and stories.
During a tour of his home gallery, which contains sculptures, maquettes — small-scale drawings — and drawings, Blood said, “This is essentially what remains of a very long career. I’ve been blessed with a life that many people would be envious of.”
Blood specializes in large and small sculptures made from welded steel, as well as figurative sculptures — sculptures that represent real objects — that are created in wax, then cast in bronze.
Throughout his career, he’s worked with about 90 models, Blood said.
“Without the model, a piece doesn’t exist,” Blood said. “Each person brings their own personality.” One model asked him what he wanted her to do. “I said, ‘Just be yourself.’ … Throughout my career, I’ve continued to work with models,” Blood said. “It’s refreshing and humbling to look at the human body and have the gall to interpret it.”
Blood said his interest in sculpture began in childhood.
“In that early part of my life I discovered clay,” he said. “It got me through that part of my life. I felt good when I went into my room and played with clay. I was 5, 6 years old. I didn’t know that [what I was doing] was called sculpture.”
His identity as a sculptor “evolved,” Blood said. “When do you perceive yourself as an individual? It’s a gradual process.”
Blood graduated from the former Mont Pleasant High School in Schenectady and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts using the GI Bill after World War II. He didn’t finish art school, opting instead to move to New York City and later back to his native Schenectady County. Eventually, he was hired as artist-in-residence at the Schenectady Museum, a position he held from 1960 to 1967. He and his wife and son lived in the museum’s old Steuben Street location for a period.
“Art school was fascinating, but by my third year I felt like I’d gotten all I could out of it,” he said.
Of his decision to move home, Blood said, “I guess I’m a small-city person.”
Blood’s work has been showcased before, most notably in 2002 at a retrospective exhibition at the Schenectady Museum.
At the time, the curator, Michael Richman, wrote that “Bob Blood should feel comfortable taking his place among a select group of accomplished American sculptors.”