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Started with a clay duck, a career is cast in bronze

Alison Brown casts bronze duck mascots, sold in campus stores


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Alison Brown, 24, and her bronze-casted Ducks.Alison Brown always knew she wanted to be sculptor.

But then came haunting thoughts of slaving away in an ill-lit studio, cats howling in an alleyway as she toiled day and night on a single masterpiece that she would sell on a street corner and make just enough money to scrape by, paycheck to paycheck.

The life of a starving artist. Not what she had imagined for a career.

Luckily, despite what some parents might think, that’s not the way things work anymore.

Granted, artists may not be able to afford the lifestyle of engineers or doctors, nor should they want to, but there are opportunities to “make it” in the art world.

It just takes talent and a little entrepreneurship, which, it turns out, Alison Brown has.

Brown’s realization began when she was on spring break from the University of Oregon, staying at her parents’ house in Troutdale. Her mother decided to show her an art gallery in downtown.

When she walked in, the junior Spanish major was stunned. “Oh my God, this is it,” she thought.

“It felt like the stars aligned,” she said, “Somebody was making a living doing what I always felt like I wanted to do.”

That somebody was Rip Caswell.

Caswell, a wildlife sculptor commissioned all over the country to install his work cast in bronze, helped Brown realize it was possible to succeed in her dream.

The two struck up a conversation, and the summer after her junior year, she was back, taking classes and working as Caswell’s intern.

She fell in love with the lost wax method. “I wanted to do bronze,” she said.

Brown sculpted her first duck, an inspiration to open her own business combining bronze and the Oregon Ducks mascot.

Animating clay

Brown was 10 years old when her mother first pushed a pile of clay in front of her.

As she grew older, she took a Claymation class, sculpting stop-motion film characters for the first time.

“I remember loving the feeling of clay and putting a little bit of my personality into it,” she said.

Brown thought, “I want to be an animator,” maybe for Will Vinton Studios, now Laika.

Back at school her senior year, Brown took clay into her dorm room and created a makeshift studio on her desk, where she would spend the rest of the year finishing her degree and starting her business, and sculpting her first two university-licensed duck mascots.

The University of Oregon’s duck mascot had a contract with Disney, until a magical moment happened in 2010.

Oregon was in a process of rediscovering the “personality” of its duck mascot when Brown walked in to the marketing department with her bronze-casted duck, and .. .poof! The university granted full rights to her duck. She is officially licensed by Disney and the U of O Marketing and Brand Management department.

Maybe it was good timing, or maybe it was the “whimsical personality” Brown likes to breathe into her artwork to give it life. Wonder where she learned that ... cough, Rip Caswell.

Sitting in Caswell’s Gallery on a sunny Monday afternoon, in a moment of reflection, 24-year-old Brown said, “Walking in here allowed me to throw away that conception of what an artist looks like.”

With the gallery her launching pad and the UO her networking source, Brown’s business — Campus Sculptures — took flight.

Duck sculptures on campus

Brown makes limited editions of the Oregon Duck mascot, molded in clay and cast in bronze. After those sell out at The Duck Stores, she creates collectible versions.

Her clients are a never-ending source of University of Oregon alumni. Her duck mascots have added to the collections of Ed Maletis of Columbia Distributing, professional golfer Peter Jacobsen and Nike head Phil Knight.

Brown is looking forward to seeing her business, “her baby,” grow. Brown also is represented as a wildlife artist in galleries such as Primary Elements Gallery in Cannon Beach and The Grand Teton Gallery in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Perhaps in the future she will make her talents available to other universities.

But for now, that means more baby ducks.

“I feel a responsibility to them (the University of Oregon),” she said. “I found out who I was at the U of O. I love being an alum and being a duck.”

Most of her work completed from Caswell’s studio in downtown Troutdale, Brown said, “Is something I can dedicate myself to all the time, not just during the week, and it demands that. It’s my lifestyle and who I am. I don’t think I could ever get sick of making the duck.”




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