Dan Droz didn’t decide to become a sculptor until he was 69, but that didn’t stop him from proving that it’s never too late for a new venture – and success at that.
Droz, now 71, is the artist behind the new sculpture at the entrance to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail at 15th Street and Waterfront Place, directly across from Facebook offices and the Homewood Suites hotel in the Strip District. The 12-foot-tall piece, titled “The Gathering,” was commissioned by Burns Scalo Real Estate — the owner of the nearby Vision on Fifteenth mixed-use complex — to engage visitors and provide a focal point for the neighborhood.
“Burns Scalo was very interested in creating a meeting place or gathering area at the entrance to the heritage trail. I thought the sculpture itself should reflect that,” says Droz. “The sculpture is called ‘The Gathering’, and it abstractly depicts a group of people coming together. From one angle, it might look like two people are clapping hands. From another angle, it could give the impression that three or four people are gathering.
Droz taught design classes at Carnegie Mellon University and had a design and marketing business before moving into the visual arts. He had made a few parts, mostly in his garage, but that was it. That is, until he starts thinking about what should happen next for him on the eve of his 69th birthday. He spoke to an artist friend, who encouraged him to contact a local gallery, and the rest was history.
The goal of his new career, he says, is to put sculpture in public spaces that engage people who come to see it.
“I wanted to be able to make a difference with art,” he says. “The main goal or purpose would be to eventually be able to create sculptures that would help define and/or elevate a space with art that has some relevance in people’s lives.”
That’s exactly what drew him to the Burns Scalo project on the Strip.
He first got involved in it in May last year. During a lull in the number of COVID cases, galleries reopened for a few exhibitions, and one of them was a joint effort between the James Gallery in the West End and the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, based in Lawrenceville. They reached out to Droz and asked if he would be willing to do a solo show in person, and Droz quickly agreed.
Pamela Austin, Burns Scalo Brand Manager, was in attendance. When she saw Droz’s work, she asked James Frederick – the owner and founder of the James Gallery – if Droz would be willing to do a sculpture for the property development company.
“So I met her there and talked to her about it, and then I met her about their vision for this space and within days I gave them some sketches of a mockup,” says -he.
The result was “The Gathering” as it stands today, celebrated in a ceremony on May 24. Most of Droz’s works feature bold colors and the common theme of connectedness – the idea that people and relationships matter.
“I will stick to what people have told me. [The sculptures] make them feel happy, they are very approachable,” he says. “People seem to gravitate to certain rooms and connect with them easily. There’s no intellectual struggle to engage with them.
Although “The Gathering” shares this common theme of connectivity and accessibility, there are a few things about it that he says set it apart, namely its size.
“It’s the biggest sculpture I’ve made to date. The scale itself has an effect on your engagement with the sculpture; the scale of the sculpture creates a lot more space or place,” he explains.
An 8-inch figure sitting on a desk, for example, is not a location creation object. But a 12-foot-tall statue in front of a resort is a whole different story.
“The effect is that it can become a gathering space. It can actually impact how people behave in a space or interact with the sculpture in the space itself,” he says.
He hopes this will be a way of representing to other developers or architects planning public spaces to include sculpture and art in their plans.
“My ultimate goal is to make large sculptures for public spaces. I felt that was an example of how it can be done and how I can do it,” he says. “Other developers or architects or cities will see this as an example of how I could help define a space in their own city or for their own project.”
Droz also has a book of his works coming out later this year.