Published Oct. 2, 2023
BY ISABELLA BONY
At first glance, Steven Whyte can seem a bit intimidating, just like his bulldog, Wellington. Like Wellington, Whyte is rather tough, a little stocky, and, quite noticeably, English. But below the surface, the world-renowned sculptor has more of a story to tell than what might appear, and just like his bulldog, he can be a bit soft towards the ones he cares about most.
Widely praised for his monument-style sculptures, Whyte hires aspiring artists like he once was to work in his studio and learn skills directly from him, a professional with nearly four decades of experience.
“He just provides a space that allows artists to come and work on themselves and to grow,” says Ariel Mar, an artist and former employee at Whyte’s studio.
The now-American citizen prides himself on not only teaching his employees how to work in a studio environment, but focusing on teachings that can be applied to any workplace. Within the studio, he emphasizes teaching business on top of sculpture-oriented skills to better prepare his employees for the real world.
“There’s a lot of life that they are not being taught,” Whyte remarks. “I will literally have my phone on speaker when we’re dealing and talking to people and negotiating and then I will hang up and tell them exactly what I did and why.”
Whyte takes on this direct teaching style since he finds it benefits his employees the most as they learn progressively what his career entails. With this, the sculptor continues to find satisfaction in the fact that he has provided individuals with experience and information that will help them choose their own path, whether it be in art or not.
When telling his parents about his future aspirations to become an artist, his parents only had one stipulation: If he chose to go down this path, he would have to be able to earn a living. So far, he has done so, but it has not been easy. Yet he is able to make a difference despite this.
Through his work, Whyte also continues to inspire, choosing projects that have deep meaning and value to society. Some of his most memorable projects exist locally, though he has several monuments nationwide. One of the ones he highlights most is his statue commemorating the comfort women, women and girls who had been taken from their homes to be sex slaves during World War II.
“Steven has always pursued work that tells a story,” says Ellen Wilson, his wife and studio manager. “Projects like the Comfort Women monument bring representation and recognition. It makes the work feel vital and essential.”
Other sculptures done by Whyte aim to remember the people in the Monterey Peninsula community who have also made a difference, including the Cannery Row Monument at Steinbeck Plaza, Betty White and Clint Eastwood.
Whyte recounts one of his sculptures commemorating the recently deceased Mike Marotta Sr., the so-called “Mayor of Alvarado,” who was known for his accordion playing and outgoing personality.
“As soon as the glue had set on his concrete base, his sons came out with their instruments and sat with him and played with him,” recounts Whyte. When looking back at these reactions, the artist says, “That’s the reward.”
For all of these actions Whyte has taken to better his community and acknowledge the history behind it, he was awarded the title of Champion of the Arts in 2022 by the Arts Council of Monterey County, an award that he truly deserves.
Yet it is the work that he didn’t get to finish, or in some cases even started, that remains fresh on his mind.
While talking about some of the most difficult parts of his job, Whyte recounts the projects that he did not get. This includes a particularly unique monument done to acknowledge Dr. Seuss and his father, which Whyte was very proud of, only to come in second.
Another particularly memorable one was a bid that Whyte had actually won to sculpt a bust of Princess Diana for the Red Cross while he still remained in England. After finding out that the piece had been canceled, the sculptor recounts, “One of the Lords or Sirs had said ‘You didn’t get it because you don’t speak properly. You’re not the right class.’” This was profoundly devastating; he had hit a glass ceiling. Realizing this, Whyte made the daring decision to move.
Where he chose: Carmel, California.
This move has proven to be a practical and constructive one. Whyte has proven himself to be a pillar of the artist community in Monterey County. He has shown what it is like to be a master of his craft as well as a teacher who gives his all to his students.