Making dreams take shape

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 1, 2013

From his earliest years, Chase Andrew Winfield said, he’s had the ability to create art.
Working in plasticine clay, he created figures that amazed those who saw them. So much so, Winfield said, “that when I would take sculptures to school, on my own, they wouldn’t believe I did them.”
Over time, his artistic abilities were noticed, and in the years since then, Winfield’s career has taken him from Cannon Mills to the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia and back again.
Today, at 73, he’s an art teacher whose desire is to show others how to do the things he’s learned.
And, Winfield said, he wants to see art and artists come back to Kannapolis, his hometown.
Born in August 1940 in a home on Miller Street, Winfield said his father was also a talented man — “playing and writing music, doing wood carvings.”
“And he only had a third grade education,” he said.
As a boy, Winfield said, “I was constantly building things.”
From playing in the creek, to building small igloos and teepees out of cane stalks, to modeling figures out of clay.
From there, Winfield said, he took up painting.
A portrait he painted of a next-door neighbor when he was 16 proved to be a key part of his career in the years to come.
Sitting in the small living room of his apartment, Winfield is surrounded by eclectic art he’s collected over the years, as well as quite a few of his own pieces.
Pride of place goes to his collection of busts of the imperial family of Russia: Czar Nicholas II, wife Empress Alexandra and their five children.
Winfield says he believes his artistic talent comes from the fact that he has been reincarnated over time.
“I believe I’ve been an artist many times before,” he said.
But it took quite some time for him to reach a point where art could be the focus of his life.
In 1959, Winfield took a job in the weave room at Cannon Mills in Kannapolis.
It wasn’t the job for him, and he knew it, Winfield said. He decided to take a chance.
He took the portrait he’d painted of his neighbor and had a meeting with a supervisor.
The result?
“I got a job working at the Cannon (Mills) main office,” Winfield said.
Winfield left the weave room to become a package designer. During those years he also did some few designs for towels and sheets.
But his main task was designing packaging for gift sets.
Over time, he said, the work became repetitive. On top of that, he was the only person working in his department who didn’t have a college education.
Some years later, Winfield went to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, interested in studying journalism.
“I think I wound up with about 27 credits, and then I stopped,” Winfield said.
He said he mainly wanted to improve his writing ability. But sculpture remained his first priority.
In addition to clay, he learned how to sculpt in wax — using types of wax with different levels of hardness to create intricate pieces.
In 1972, Winfield had the opportunity to work for Paul Sapperstein at Concept Plastics in High Point.
During this time, Winfield was “trying to figure out a way to have income coming in. You know, as an artist, it’s either feast or famine.”
He began designing artistic pieces for home and garden. Fountains, obelisks and sculpted figures Winfield made were mass-produced in resin.
For each one sold, Winfield would receive a percentage of the price in royalties, which provided him with a monthly paycheck.
“That kept my family more stable,” Winfield said.
He and his wife, Sarah Ann Whitley, had married in 1959. They had three children together, two of whom are still living.
Sarah Ann, who worked as a nurse at what was then Cabarrus Memorial Hospital, was always supportive of Winfield’s artistic career, he said.
Winfield said that, just as he’d dared to ask about a job at Cannon Mills years ago, decades later he got to the next stage of his career with a bold question.
When David Murdock bought Cannon Mills in 1982, Winfield saw an opportunity. Knowing how hard it was to meet Murdock, Winfield said, he took advantage of a speaking engagement to meet the billionaire.
Winfield said he took an advertisement for the gallery he owned at the time, showing pieces he’d sculpted and artwork made from items rescued from the McIver School after it burned in the early 1980s. Winfield said he introduced himself to Murdock, showed him the photo and said, “I want to work for you.”
From there, Winfield went on to design pieces that are on display at Murdock’s properties, including the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis.
“He encouraged me and had a lot of faith in me,” Winfield said of Murdock. “I think the world of him. His encouragement is something I’ll always be thankful for.”
More opportunities began to result from the exposure Winfield received. He sculpted a bust of NASCAR racing champion Richard Petty for the Richard Petty Museum.
He created the award statue design for the Arabian Horsemen Awards for Murdock and was commissioned to create busts of numerous prominent locals.
His sculptures of the Romanovs have garnered international attention, and Winfield said he hopes to eventually donate them to a museum in St. Petersburg.
In November 2002, Winfield had a chance to visit Russia, where he learned some of the history of the Romanov family.
With the overthrow of the Russian imperial dynasty in 1917, Winfield said, the Bolshevik revolutionaries destroyed much of the art honoring the monarchy.
“They were trying to wipe his memory off the earth,” Winfield said.
Starting in 2003, for the next two years Winfield painstakingly sculpted the seven Romanovs, based on formal photos of the family.
The stylized Baroque busts are an example of how Winfield said he likes to incorporate cultural art and even architecture into his work.
As he worked on the Romanovs, Winfield said, he became interested in the story of the family. Executed by the revolutionaries, their remains weren’t identified for decades.
In recent years, Winfield has begun a series of sculptures of children reflecting the cultures of the world.
The stylized representations of children from China are on display at his home as he continues work on the series.
For the Chinese boy, Winfield said, he was inspired to use elements of traditional architecture, as well as cultural symbols.
The boy from China is seated next to a Shar Pei dog, a breed dating back to the Han dynasty. His costume includes Chinese imperial dragons, which Winfield said are drawn from pagodas.
Although Winfield no longer has a public gallery — his last one, the Crow’s Nest Gallery in Kannapolis, was destroyed in a 2004 fire — he still enjoys working with the public.
He is an instructor at Carolina Clay Connection in Charlotte. And, Winfield said, he hopes that Kannapolis will soon have more art, and artists, on display downtown.
“Right now, in general, there’s nothing, zero,” Winfield said. “The Cannons tried to bring arts and culture to the community,”
More recently, Winfield said, Murdock has worked to try to increase the artistic presence in Kannapolis.
Although there’s a dance school downtown, and an ongoing visual arts festival, Winfield said there’s definitely room for more art, and more artists, in his hometown.
“It’s going to take some money,” he said, but most of all it will take local appreciation of the arts.
Winfield said his health hasn’t been the best, but still, he said, “I plan to live to be 434.”
“Life is one of the big adventures for me,” Winfield said.
And, as his life as an artist has shown, there’s always another chapter waiting to be written.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.