Larry LaRue

An artist in winter: Tacoma sculptor Larry Anderson winds down at age 73

Larry Anderson was teaching art at Foss High School the year he turned 35 and his father-in-law died.

“My dad was on his deathbed, and Larry told him he wanted to dedicate himself to his art full time,” Sharilyn Anderson said. “My dad said, ‘Well, if I thought I could make a living as an artist, I’d sure as hell get on with it.’”

Anderson got on with it.

Not quite 40 years later, he has created more than 70 commissioned bronze sculptures — many of them for his hometown of Tacoma.

One of those, “Children’s Bell,” will be rededicated Thursday in the park at 3825 Ruston Way between 2 and 3 p.m. Created in 2000, the sculpture is more than five feet tall with a bell meant to be rung. Along the base, children play.

It was removed from the park four years ago after the foundation began to crack.

Now back in the park, the bell was dedicated to Marty Gentili, founder of PAVE, a group that assists parents of special-needs kids. The Andersons will be part of the ceremony Thursday.

“The attention should be on the bell,” said Larry Anderson, now 73.

Throughout his career, he was always happy to have the attention be about the art, whether is was his first commissioned work — “The Leaf,’ which stands in Wright Park — or life-sized statues of Abraham and Mary Lincoln and two of their sons in Springfield, Ill.

Anderson bronzes stand in front of Tacoma’s Union Station, Fireman’s Park, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, Old Town and the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

For more than 30 years, he was remarkably productive, turning out detailed, life-sized work that honored veterans and veterinarians, fire fighters and student heroes. He also found time for paintings and sketches, many of which adorn his Bonney Lake home.

“I never wanted to stop,” Anderson said.

It’s been more than six years since he accepted a commission, and he’s turned down more than a dozen. It was not his choice. It was his body’s.

In 2008, Anderson had a pair of back surgeries and open-heart surgery. He also began a battle with macular degeneration. A year later, he began experiencing a tremor that gets worse whenever he works.

“I’m losing my sight and control of my hands,” Anderson said. “I’ve been slowed down. I’m going wherever that leads me.”

The two large studios in his home —one for sculpture, the other for painting —were the places where Anderson’s life flowed happily along.

All three of his children — Caplan, Kristen and Marti —posed for his sculpture. When he sculpted animals, live models were brought into his studio, too.

“When he was doing the piece for veterinarians, we had a calf living in the studio,” Sharilyn said. “We brought horses in, fostered a dog from the Humane Society, had kittens in there …”

The kittens were the most problematic.

In the sculpture “Team Effort,” Anderson had a veterinarian hold one newborn kitten alongside a basket of them. A young girl watched the vet closely, and a dog sat nearby.

“Every day, one of the kittens would climb the veterinarian’s leg and leave little claw marks in the clay, and every day I’d have to smooth them out,” Anderson said.

His sculpture studio is now largely a storage space and workshop. Giving up the art he has loved since his days at McKinley Elementary School has proven impossible.

“We are all artists,” Anderson said. “It’s who I am.”

Recently, he painted a self-portrait. All three of his children now want it.

Sweethearts at Lincoln High School, the Andersons have been married 52 years. They celebrated the birth of their first grandchild, Aldwyn, last year in New Zealand.

“We live in gratitude, and it requires resilience,” Sharilyn said.

In the past six years, they have visited 48 of the 59 national parks. They canoed in the Everglades, hiked deep into the Alaskan wild — both using guides.

Anderson still misses the work. Asked whether he has a favorite among his creations, he thinks a moment.

“I did my best on all of them, but ‘Coming Home,’ that was my peace statement,” he said.

That statue — of a civil war veteran, musket in hand, greeting his dog upon returning home — stands at a veterans home in Sandusky, Ohio.

Six years ago, presidential candidate Barack Obama posed with Anderson’s Lincoln statue in Illinois for a magazine photo. Anderson asked for and received a copy of that photo signed by Obama.

The president sent Anderson a second photo and asked that the artist sign and return it.

Art comes harder now, requires all Anderson’s strength, will and focus. Someone asked if would ever stop trying to create art.

“No,” he said.