James Robertson’s introduction to sculpting was born out of a tragedy. At 17, when one of his friends at James River High School in Midlothian died, Robertson instinctively turned to the format to create a memorial.
“It just kind of blossomed organically,” he says, “this idea of making a sculpture.”
Since then, he’s slowly built a reputation in the art form, becoming the young face of sculpture in a city full of monuments to the past.
His efforts help make memories live on. He’s worked on some of Richmond’s most high-profile monuments, including the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue. He spent four years as a member of a three-man team that rebuilt and restored the Indian Pavilion in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ East Asian collection. On the campus of Virginia Union University, he’s in the midst of restoring the largest terra-cotta relief sculpture made in the last 2,500 years, a piece called “Belgians at Work.”
He also creates original pieces. He recently collaborated with Paul DiPasquale on a memorial for fallen police officers in Virginia Beach. He donates time and services to VMFA, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Art on Wheels. And he’s working on a service project in which veterans will make art with an ancient Roman siege warfare weapon by firing sculpted objects into clay.
“I think that volunteering at all is the greatest way to expand your own knowledge of your craft and your knowledge of your community,” he says. “Plus, I’m addicted to having my hands dirty.”