Hard work. Perseverance. Raw skill. A little luck.
Those four components, coupled with the tutelage of former UW-Whitewater arts professor James Wenkle, have helped Janesville native Timothy Nimmo find his calling and mold it into a career as a professional sculpture artist.
Earlier this year, the 1978 Parker High School graduate recorded a landmark achievement when a piece titled “Constellation” was selected for inclusion in the National Sculpture Society’s annual Awards Exhibition. The work was one of just 54 chosen from more than 430 submitted from professional artists nationwide.
The honorarium is just the latest for Nimmo, whose “Awakening Buck” earned a prestigious Award of Excellence from the Society of Animal Artists in 2014. His body of work also was recognized in 2018 with a Marilyn Newmark Grant from the aforementioned National Sculpture Society. A handful of first-place and Best of Show ribbons also have come through a series of “modest art shows here and there.”
After graduating from UW-W with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1984, Nimmo initially became a professional art mold maker and project manager for other sculptors. In this capacity, he helped create and place hundreds of monumental bronze sculptures nationwide. In fact, it wasn’t until 2008 that he began creating his own work and selling it professionally.
Now living out West with his dogs Bobo and Opie, Nimmo reports he had “an incredibly fruitful lockdown,” branching into miniatures and continuing work on several other projects that are in different stages of completion. He spends his down time wandering through nature looking for inspiration and staving off what he refers to as a nasty chess addiction.
1. What led you to focus your talent on sculpture over other forms of art? Mostly because I sucked at all the rest of them. I also had a knack for the technical end of art foundry and loved to tinker and experiment there. I had a good career at that before I got serious about doing my own work. It was accessible and easy for me to use bronze as my medium when I had been making other artists bronzes and molds for something like 25 years.
2. When did you decide you wanted to become a professional artist as a profession? I think I wanted to be an artist of some kind since I was a kid. Well, actually, we are all artists when we were kids. I just didn’t want to stop.
3. What are your most and least favorite materials to work? I love many things when I’m working with them. I just don’t always love the results. To me, the smell of oil paints is like the smell of coffee or bacon to others. There are many other mediums like this to me, but the catch is my sense of composition in painting stinks. I couldn’t throw a decent pot at gunpoint, and anything with fiber arts or photography I have no business being around.
4. How long does it typically take you to complete a sculpture? I can speak only about the creation of the art work in clay (and not the foundry production part here). Some take a week, some take months, some take years (stopping and starting over time). I would love to explain why, but I can’t. Some just want to be created, and my fingers can’t move the clay fast enough to keep up with my mind. Others are like giving birth to a sideways warthog that wants to stay put.
5. Earlier this year, your work “Constellation” was selected for inclusion in the National Sculpture Society’s annual Awards Exhibition. Explain the prestige associated with this honor. The NSS was created by the heavyweight champs of American sculpture in 1893—including Daniel Chester French, Augustus St. Gaudens, Stanford White and J.Q.A. Ward. It’s a big deal. I had never imagined being included with these men and women in it now, much less those names. The Mount Rushmore of American sculptors “lives” here. Their annual show asks for submissions from the membership of NSS, and those submissions are heavily juried. More than 400 of our members applied for this show, and a little more than 50 were accepted. It’s pretty rarified air I never thought I’d be sniffing.
6. When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: I became a sculptor. Seriously, there was a long time when I had given up—didn’t think I had “it.” I contented myself with being a damned good artisan in art foundry and resigned myself to that as a good second best to my dreams of youth.
7. Describe your first car and how you obtained it. A used, dark green Chevy Nova. I think my dad paid for most of it, mostly because he got sick of me always borrowing his on weekend nights. And wrecking his Dodge could have been the last straw.
8. What is the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done? Too many to mention most of them, but a couple: got rim-rocked elk hunting by myself in the Rockies once. I chased a guy once who was beating up on a lady, and then he chased me ... I almost got shot. Damned fool things driving cars, like doing an Evel Knievel over the old bridge on Black Bridge Road at about 65 mph.
9. Are you inspired by other artists, or are your ideas completely organic? As a good friend once said, “We’re all inspired by other artists all the time, we just aren’t always aware of it.” I actually embrace this and don’t even try to pretend “it’s all original.” I look at a lot of work from many civilizations and many times. I look at my contemporaries. I mash it all up in my own gumbo and then say, “This one is a mash up of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night,’ (Paul) Manship’s ‘Prometheus,’ and a mountain peak I can see from my backyard.” True story.
10. What is the strangest thing currently on your work desk? Well, it’s not on my bench right now, but it’s in the freezer, and in my queue of things I want to do. It’s my hip bone from my last hip replacement surgery. I want to get my hands on that little bastard that caused me so much pain and make something beautiful out of it. Besides, as a sculptor, the rarest substance I could ever hope to work with would be my own bones.
11. For journalists, “writer’s block” is a real thing. Do you ever have trouble being creative? We all have those days where we feel “not quite so fresh,” as the old commercials used to say. But I’m what I call “a grinder.” My years of working for others taught me that whether I feel like it or not, someone paid me good money to do my best. So I got in the habit of being able to just keep grinding away at things until it does click. I just keep working, and eventually my attitude will fall into line.
12. In the early years, many artists hold jobs just to put food on the table while they pursue their careers. Did you have any of these, or were you just fortunate to “arrive” sooner than most? I did NOT arrive early. My art stunk, or wasn’t satisfying, or wasn’t “whatever” it needed to be when I was younger. So I used my knack for the technical processes to put food on the table. I did industrial foundry and industrial shop jobs at first. Pouring iron and brass gears for crane transmissions. Cutting parts up for steel stair railings. Ironically, I hurt my back doing that, and the only place that would hire me was an art foundry. So I did that. They went bust, so I started my own because, frankly, with my bad back and limited skill set, no one would hire me. I didn’t make my first decent sculpture until age 48 and “went pro” over the next few years.
13. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I’m actually a pretty boring normal guy. Once, someone said my life as a sculptor must be glamorous. I almost snotted on her from the snort I gave out. “Yeah lady, the glamor of raking up dog poop in the yard, cleaning plaster buckets, always being dirty—it’s right out of Hollywood!”
14. Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? It depends on the situation. I can still be a bit shy and awkward talking to new people in a strange or unfamiliar setting. Yet if it’s about sculpture or foundry, I can address a group of a couple hundred with ease.
15. Some people turn to art as a hobby. Because you are a professional artist, to what do you turn for relaxation? My work is very meditative by nature, so it is often relaxing. But when I need a break, I’m usually headed off into nature. I love hiking, hunting, fossil hunting and rock hounding, fishing, etc. My neighbors are cool and good friends, so often we sit around in each others’ yards late at night and tip a few, talking about this and that and nothing much at all.
16. Were your parents or other family members artistic in any way, or did you just chart your own path? I was the black sheep. We have businesspeople, doctors, mechanics, etc. in the family, but growing up, it seemed like I was the only one (who was artistic). Then later, we find out my mom is artistic. She started landscape painting in her 60s and is quite good. And I reconnected with a half-sister in my 30s, and she’s a musician.
17. You graduated from UW-Whitewater in 1984. Share something cool about the ’80s that younger people simply wouldn’t understand. The lost fine art of finding one of your buddies you know is out on the town on a Friday night when you don’t have cell phones. The people you run into and meet, when you can’t control the situation, and just having to roll with it led to so much damned fun.
18. Name a skill you wish you had. Painting. It’s lighter than this heavy sh#t! Seriously, I always wanted to have some kind of decent musical ability. I have none, and music is magical to me.
19. What person in history would you most like to have met? Paul Manship. I think everyone would recognize his work, though few know the name. In my opinion, he was the greatest American artist ever. If you trace my teacher’s teacher back, and his teacher, etc., he is my sculptural great-great-grandfather or something like that. I would love to go back and apprentice under him. Such grace and elegance. Exquisite work. Flawless craftsmanship.
20. What is your ultimate goal as an artist? Just to get better. To have each piece, each line, each thumb stroke of clay or pass of a file be a little better than my last.