Saltwater Portrait

Kristen Visbal's artistic journey continues

Next steps could lead to more abstract creations
August 7, 2012

Go to to see her portfolio.


Kristen Visbal's artistic talent took a while to surface, but when it did, it flourished beyond her dreams.

Visbal, who operates her Lewes modeling studio at Nassau Valley Vineyards, recently completed nine sculpted figures for a Cradle of Coaches collection at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The final figure of nine, Paul Brown, will be unveiled in a private ceremony Friday, Sept. 21, to family members and then unveiled to the public the following day.

Other coaches – 20 percent larger than real life – include Paul Dietzel, Bo Schembechler, Weeb Ewbank, Carmen Cozza, Ara Parseghian, John Pont, Van Voorhis and Red Blaik. She edged out 10 hand-picked artists to attain the commission.

Visbal said the Cradle of Coaches project spanned nearly four years. Clay modeling for each figure took about 500 hours in her Lewes studio, another 400 to 500 hours was invested in casting each work in bronze in Colorado. While she did not complete the final stages herself, she traveled to Colorado to oversee the metal and patina work. “You have to know how to do it yourself, but because of the time involved, it's better to let the true experts do the production process,” she said.

When she first started her journey into the art of bronze sculpture, she did the entire lost wax bronze casting process herself. She has a step-by-step demonstration of the complex process on her website at

A journey 30 years in the making

Visbal's first steps into the art world took more than three decades.

She had attended the University of Arizona in Tucson and then started out in sales and marketing at the regional sales office of Omni Hotels in Washington, D.C. When she moved to the Cape Region in the late 1980s, she sold ads for local radio stations and worked at a jewelry store in Ocean City.

She said something was missing; that something was art. “My mother was a painter, so there was always an appreciation of the arts at home,” she said.

A series of chance meetings and inspirational mentors guided Visbal along her artistic path. It was't until her turned 30 that she embarked on an art career when she enrolled in Salisbury State University.

As a student, Visbal started out to be a graphic artist, but she took a class in ceramics and the first evidence of her hidden sculpting talent surfaced. Under tutelage of her teacher, she changed her major to sculpture and did abstract work using a variety of materials. A meeting with sculptor William Turner changed all that. After graduation, she interned with Turner at his Onley, Va., studio for five weeks and learned more about the art of realistic sculpture. In just a brief time working with bits of clay, she found her calling.

She next garnered an apprenticeship with the prestigious Johnson Atelier Art Foundry in Mercerville, N.J. There she embarked on a three-year training regimen studying the aspects of lost wax bronze casting, developing the skills necessary to create and oversee production of her own bronze sculptures. Even before she left her apprenticeship, Visbal had a handful of commissions for private collectors. She's been busy ever since she opened her Lewes studio in January 1999.

Inspiration from the her surroundings

Visbal finds inspiration in a variety of settings, including the location of her studio, hidden away among the green vines and large trees at Nassau Valley Vineyards. “It's a bucolic area, a perfect place for me to work,” she said.

She also draws inspiration from the sea, which is reflected in many of her works, including her first bronze of a mermaid and her next commission, a bronze of a mermaid and two dolphins for the City of Myrtle Beach, S.C., downtown public art initiative. “I love water, and would have a hard time being happy if I was not near water,” she said.

Also included in her portfolio are many sculptures of children and animals. She won a gold medal during an exhibition at the National Arts Club in New York City for Prowler, a one-quarter size sculpture of a Bengal tiger.

Another of her works, a sculpture of jazz artist Clifford Brown, has been selected for an American Women Artists show at the K. Newby Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Tubac, Ariz., one of only 14 sculptures selected for the exhibition.

Seeking a return to her roots

While realism has been her forte, Visbal wants to dabble in the world of the abstract. It's a return to her roots, she says, and a place for her art to grow.

“Picasso was a realist when he started,” she said. “You have to understand reality first. I'm interested in distorted reality. I would love to twist, spin and turn the human form; I'm interested in motion.”

She has been mulling a work over in her mind for years of a spinning dancer in a fountain form involved in a vortex. It's a mix of realism and the abstract, she says, and a first step down another path.

“It's really a fine line I walk. I have wonderful clients who have great faith in me, and they want realism,” she adds. “I do appreciate realism, but I think I've got that down, and I have to grow and be that other person to realize who I was meant to be as an artist.”

She wants to get away from this area and travel to Paris and Barcelona to study abstract art, which breaks the strict rules of anatomy. “It's a whole other side I've not tapped into, but it has to come out, but at the same time, it takes a lot of courage to do what you are supposed to do,” she said.

Works in public places:

In Search of Atlantis, a girl with a sea turtle, in Atlantic Beach, Fla.; Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton, Ohio; Bob Hayes, Jacksonville, Fla.; Sea Express, a boy riding a dolphin, Jacksonville, Fla.; Girl Chasing Butterflies, Hershey Park, Pa., and Merrill Lynch corporate headquarters, Plainsboro, N.J.; and Cradle of Coaches, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.