Nationally recognized sculptor and two-time Brookdale alumnus Brian Hanlon returned to his alma mater on Jan. 26 to open a new exhibit of his work in the CVA Gallery.
The exhibit, titled “Historic Pillars in Bronze,” features more than two dozen sculptures of local and national heroic figures, including famed baseball player Yogi Berra, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, groundbreaking men’s basketball player Earl Lloyd, a New Jersey firefighter, and women’s lacrosse player Yeardley Love, who died tragically in 2010. The exhibit is on display through March 17.
The sculptures, some of which stand more than seven feet tall, are a sampling of the more than 300 public art pieces Hanlon has created for schools, universities, churches, memorial foundations and other organizations since first enrolling at Brookdale as a young student in 1979.
After transferring to Kean University and working in New York City as an ironworker and a teamster, Hanlon said he returned to Brookdale in 1984 to pursue a career as a teacher. There he met art professor Tony Blaser, who inspired in the young artist a newfound passion and respect for working with clay.
“There was a different feel in his class, and that has never left me,” said Hanlon, during an opening reception for the new exhibit on the Lincroft campus. “He really loved clay. It was a cool thing to see. I really got turned onto art by seeing that interaction, and I think you need that as a student. You need that kind of teacher in your path.”
Hanlon would go on to Monmouth University and Boston University, where he honed his talent and built a reputation for turning clay into large, strikingly detailed sculptures. After he began earning small commissions for his work, Hanlon said he returned to the Garden State to set up shop in any makeshift studio space he could afford.
“I worked out of my mom’s garage, I worked in a cemetery garage with no floor, and I worked in a chicken coop,” he said. “The coop was great. For me, it was an upgrade.”
Over time, Hanlon’s reputation grew. He began to receive larger and larger commissions, crafting custom bronze sculptures for universities and nonprofit organizations across the United States.
New Jersey residents might recognize his work from the “Welcome to Ocean County” sculpture on Route 37 in Toms River, which greets thousands of shore-bound drivers every day, and the NJ Gold Star Family Monument at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel, the only monument of its kind in the nation.
Addressing a capacity crowd of friends, family, local art lovers and Brookdale employees during the Jan. 26 reception, Hanlon gave an overview of his journey from Brookdale to artistic acclaim and back.
“This is like one of those special circles that has really come to closure for me,” he said. “I started here, and here I am today to give back. I hope it’s actually the beginning of me being more involved with Brookdale and giving back any way I can. I want to share my experiences and, hopefully, inspire students. I hope they will be courageous, because it does take a bit of courage to pursue this.”
For second-year Brookdale visual arts student Angelise Esposito, the CVA exhibit was as motivating as Hanlon’s story.
“I had no idea he was alumni. Knowing that is a huge inspiration,” she said. “The exhibit is really cool. The sculptures are so big that they force you think about his process, how he made them and the kind of work that was involved with them. I really like the Fannie Lou Hamer piece. Sculpture can be a very static kind of material, and that one has a lot of character in action. It’s like she’s right there.”
Hanlon was welcomed back to campus by a host of Brookdale faculty and officials, including Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy, art professor and CVA Gallery coordinator Marie Maber, Humanities Institute dean Carl Calendar, art professor Lori Uffer and, of course, professor Tony Blaser. Maber encouraged all Brookdale students and community members to come see the exhibit in person before it closes for good in April.
“Brian’s sculptures – and the subjects of his art – serve as a great source of inspiration to our students and community members alike,” said Maber.
The “Historic Pillars in Bronze” exhibit is part of the 2017 Visiting Artists Series, sponsored by the Brookdale Innovation Grant program. Hanlon declined his artists’ fee for the exhibition, choosing instead to donate it to the Brookdale Foundation for a future student scholarship.
Hanlon currently serves as the official sculptor for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He owns Hanlon Sculpture Studio in Toms River.
Check out more photos of the “Historic Pillars in Bronze” reception here.