Junior Isaac Dell works on a bust of Abraham Lincoln. Jordyn Pair | Collegian
Junior Isaac Dell works on a bust of Abraham Lincoln. Jordyn Pair | Col­legian

Folded in his lap, peeking out from his flannel sleeves, are the two agents of junior Isaac Dell’s cre­ativity: his hands.

Though Dell started sculpting just a year ago, he’s already placed in mul­tiple com­pe­ti­tions. Last year, his bust of Abraham Lincoln placed first in the fall student showcase and his female figure placed third in the spring student showcase — and his half-size male figure placed first in Hillsdale’s annual the­matic com­pe­tition, Stages of Life.

Dell also recently entered his male figure into the Sculp­tureX Regional Under­graduate Exhi­bition, hosted by Whitdel Arts in Detroit. Dell’s piece was one of 20 sub­mis­sions selected.

When Dell first arrived at Hillsdale College, he thought his talents were more geared toward math­e­matics and building, rather than design and art. As a freshman, Dell planned to pursue a physics major.

“I like products and I like design, so I thought maybe I’d like to do some­thing with engi­neering,” Dell said. “I started out here with physics and thought about fol­lowing that up with engi­neering school afterward.”

But when he reg­is­tered for Sculpture I in the fall of his sophomore year, Dell changed his mind. In a mix of cre­ative energy and natural talent, his sculpting career took off.

“It was clear pretty early in the semester that Isaac had unusual talent,” Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Art Anthony Fru­dakis said. “It was not only the fact that he is tal­ented, but also that he’s enthu­si­astic about sculpting, and how he had lots of ques­tions.”

Dell soon declared an art major.

“I always knew he would need to select a major that would allow him to be working in an envi­ronment where his cre­ativity could be explored,” his sister, Asso­ciate Dean of Women Rebekah Dell said. “I had a feeling sculpture would be his favorite medium and encouraged him to take his first class.”

Dell’s devel­opment as a sculptor began at a young age. Rebekah Dell remembers an inno­v­ative little Isaac building and cre­ating while still a small boy growing up on the family’s dairy farm in Wilm­ington, Ohio.

“Isaac has always had a great curiosity about how things work and loved to create with his hands,” Rebekah Dell said. “If he was in the house, he was designing new Lego cre­ations. He was always hap­piest outside and would build things from spare pieces of wood or other things he found in the barn or woods.”

Dell’s first cre­ation was a chair made from leftover plywood, and his second was a rocking chair built with extra boards from a fence. The rustic rocking chair cur­rently fur­nishes Dell’s room in the Suites.

“That’s where it all started, just with the wood,” Dell said. “Wood was the easiest thing to work with. We had all the tools there, and I

could use the tools myself, and it was some­thing I could do on my own.”

As Dell entered high school and his skill level heightened, he wanted to expand to new mediums. He chose steel and snow.

Dell’s father, Randy, runs Champion Bridge Company, a steel fab­ri­cation shop. Dell uti­lized the shop’s steel, equipment, and expert workers as he ven­tured into the chal­lenging new medium. A stool and a desk were Dell’s first steel products.

“I heated up the steel where I wanted to bend it, then made a jig that I could bend the steel around. That was all just torchwork and bending,” he said. “I had to do some welding to connect the pieces of steel.”

In the winter of his junior year of high­school, Dell started making snowmen. Unlike typical round-bodied, carrot-nosed snowmen, Dell’s cre­ations resembled human figures. This was his first stab at figure sculpting, the very art form he would return to during his college years.

Now, he has found his niche in the sculpting department. Although he said he has dabbled in drawing, he enjoys working more in the third dimension.

“My drawings are more sketch drawings,” Dell said. “I don’t like doing a whole lot of detail work with them because I’d rather just get the idea out on paper and then go make the thing.”

The fact that he gets to work with his hands factors into Dell’s love for sculpture, but he said his passion goes beyond that element — he simply appre­ciates the natural beauty and pro­por­tions in human figures.

“Some­thing Fru­dakis has taught me is how the golden pro­portion or the golden rec­tangle can be found throughout the face and the body,” Dell said. “It’s really neat to see how that all plays into the design of the figure. I think that’s one of the most enjoyable parts of it, just seeing that natural beauty in the figure and then trying to accen­tuate that in my sculpture. That’s one of the biggest chal­lenges.”

In Sculpture I, Dell created a bust of Abraham Lincoln. A year later, Dell con­tinues to touch up Abe in his free time.

“The others have a lot of potential, but I haven’t had enough time to work with them and really develop them,” Dell said. “It’s hard to say, ‘I’m done with this thing,’ because there’s always more to improve.”

In Sculpture II, Dell created a 36-inch female figure, and this semester, in Sculpture III, Dell is working on a life-size male figure. According to Dell, these projects reflect the strides he’s made as an artist.

“After working with the female, my eye improved and I went back to Abe and I was like, ‘What was I looking at? This thing needs so much more work!’” Dell laughed. “I didn’t capture the fleshiness of his skin or the wrinkles in his forehead. You can’t just make a line in his forehead and say it’s a wrinkle. You have to realize what’s making that crease. It’s the little things like that.”

Dell serves as his own greatest critic, which pushes him to embrace hard work. Fru­dakis has noticed.

“He comes into class early every day,” Fru­dakis said. “This has accel­erated his growth as a young sculptor.”

Outside of the six hours of weekly class time, Dell sculpted a half-size male figure, without any pro­fessor help, and also sculpted a bust of his younger sister. Dell said sculpting his own sister was a unique expe­rience.

“It’s a lot dif­ferent,” Dell said. “You examine the little things you never would before. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but there are times I look at a girl’s face and think about what makes that face dif­ferent from another girl’s face. It’s the dif­ferent char­ac­ter­istics.”

Dell said pro­fes­sional sculpting is an option for his future career, but if he could be a pro­fes­sional “inno­vator” for the rest of his life, he would probably choose that instead.

“I want to design things,” he said. “I think ideally I’d be kind of an entre­preneur type of designer, inno­vator, inventor. That would be a hard way to make a living, I think. On a more prac­tical side, pro­fes­sional sculpting is an option. Right now, I’m just taking sculpture as far as I can and seeing where that leads.”

Fru­dakis expects sculpting will take Dell far.

“Each one of his sculp­tures has been impressive, and as a teacher, I’m delighted to see the way his ded­i­cation and his hard work pays off with such fine pieces when he’s fin­ished,” Fru­dakis said. “He’s just in the very beginning of his life as an artist, so it’s a little early to try to define his greatest works. But you can check back with him in about 20 years and see how he’s doing.”