Retiring sculptor imparts wisdom and influence
October 17, 2013
During a dry Texas day, Sam Hernandez is crafting a 30-foot-long stainless steel sculpture, when a rancher approaches and observes silently for 15 minutes.
This is the longest someone has spent observing his work in progress and Hernandez considers striking up a conversation, but just as he finishes that thought, the man stands up, curses angrily and walks away.
Hernandez laughs as he recalls this moment. It is this modest attitude that has gained him a great deal of respect, combined with his accomplished art career that many can only dream of.
He wears jeans and a t-shirt and sports long, thick hair and a bushy mustache. He looks comfortable, yet distinguished, and speaks with the confident, calm demeanor of a man who has gone after his passions and succeeded.
Hernandez will be finishing his time at Santa Clara this quarter, after becoming the university’s first tenured art professor and having a large influence in shaping the Department of Art and Art History into its present form.
Before retiring, the department asked Hernandez to put on a month-long show of his own work starting Nov. 6 in the Art and Art History Building’s gallery. Hernandez had a slight twist on the idea.
“After 37 years here I felt I would honor my student’s work instead, that is my legacy at (Santa Clara),” he explained. “My students have been my joy.”
By spotlighting his students rather than himself, Hernandez has shown that he does not wish to focus on his past, but rather the passing of the artistic torch to his pupils.
Hernandez’s interest in sculpture started when he customized hot rods as a teenager. After his formal training, Hernandez headed to Europe to live with world-renowned pop artist Mel Ramos in Spain.
While there, Hernandez gained new perspectives from the more leisurely European lifestyle.
“(I learned that) you have to live each day,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to take the time for a long lunch.”
After returning from Europe, Hernandez set out to California to become a professional sculptor. He sold a customized hot rod for $3,000 and lived out of his car for the next few months. Hernandez showered at the YMCA, received bread from his more successful artist friends and was once locked inside of his car because his doors froze shut overnight.
Through these trials, he discovered his identity as an artist. Caring more for the ideas behind his sculptures, Hernandez never chose one style and material to master, instead using whichever medium and approach best suited his goals for each piece. Hernandez’s career, although successful, never consumed him fully.
“Money is good way to avoid unhappiness, but it’s not the way to achieve happiness,” Hernandez said, which is the reason that he began teaching at Santa Clara.
The steady income allowed him to have time with his family, sculpt and share his joy for art.
Over his career, Hernandez has gained international recognition for his work including a Fulbright Award, a National Endowment of the Arts and has displayed his art from Paris to Stanford University.
Despite all of this, Hernandez stays humble.
“My daughter is my greatest accomplishment, but I certainly can’t take all the credit,” he said. “I’ll share it with my wife, but the real credit is all her own.”
Hernandez could have been a far more successful artist had he not started a family and he recognizes this, but explained his choice with a saying he heard in Spain: “No es más rico el que más tiene, sino el que menos necesita.” It means “the richest person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least.”
As Hernandez leaves for his studio in Santa Cruz, Calif. one thing is clear, Hernandez is a rich man indeed.
Contact John Flynn at email@example.com.