On the road from Austin to Coupland (known for its long-standing dancehall), you can expect to drive past green farm fields, black and brown grazing cows every two miles, the occasional cluster of small-town residences, and aluminum bodegas that house John Deer tractors. What you won’t expect to see off the main highway is a field of eight-foot metal-and-granite sculptures erected just beyond a few trees and patches of Wandering Jew plants. Pausing for a double take, looking at the road behind you and back at the stone sculptures in front, you will notice a sign, a standing sheet of polished metal with cut out letters reading “Hamilton Sculpture Foundation.”
Your interest peaked, you will step out of the car and start walking up the stone-paved driveway on a hill that gives way to a sight just as odd as the last: An older, white-bearded man with sun-speckled skin and sweat on his brow beating away on a piece of red granite towering over his head. Sledgehammer in hand, he will take off his black-rimmed glasses and greet you with a candid smile and outstretched arm.
Jim Huntington is about as charmingly unusual as the sculpture garden that bears his name. The New York transplant is a self-proclaimed artist since the age of three who believes everyone is born with a certain predetermination. He believes his was to sculpt, and he’s been wielding tools and hauling granite for the better part of the past 68 years.
Plainly dressed in a faded pair of blue jeans, a white shirt with the collar popped, and worn-out Nike sneakers, he raises his ironically youthful high-pitched voice and declares, “I understand now that one of the keys to surviving in life is being happy at what you do, being in harmony with who you are and what your limitations are.” If there’s one thing Huntington seems sure of, it’s who he is and who he has been. He has the disheveled and rugged look you would find typical of anyone who claims to be an artist. He spends his days toiling away with clay models and giving shape to large pieces of granite and metal transported by independent truck drivers from quarries in New York and remote areas of Texas.
During his youth, he lived out the fantasy of the handsome struggling artist and landed a few sculptures in recognized permanent collections such as the Storm King Art Center in New York, Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey and the Austin Museum of Art at Laguna Gloria here in Texas. His sculptures have been in galleries across the globe, from a small park in California and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York to an art institute in Australia and a private university collection in Japan. He’s even been the subject of a mini-documentary by photographer and filmmaker John Larsen, who encountered the sculpture garden when he rode through Coupland on one of his motorcycle riding day trips.
Now a seasoned artist, Huntington works out of his countryside studio living out a different kind of fantasy: running a sculpture foundation he calls a spiritual endeavor. Passionately gesturing with his hands, his left fist held up to his chest, he says, “That’s why I set this up as a foundation. I think art matters. I think I’m just a messenger. I mean I was put here to make this stuff.” With the help of two of his friends and neighbors, he maintains the Huntington Sculpture Foundation, which features some small pieces inside his studio and more than fifty sculptures outside on the lawn.
The midday heat has exhausted Huntington, and he takes shelter in his covered studio but not before waving at some out-of-town visitors standing in his garden. A couple of twentysomething aspiring photographers are taking shots of a curvy redheaded woman posing with her arms behind her neck and standing on top of one of Huntington’s steel-and-granite pieces. He smiles and, squinting his eyes in their direction, says, “I think she’s a model. She moves like one. I dated a model once.”
He admits that women have been a sure influence on his life’s work. He’s dedicated a series of sculptures to women he considers examples of strength and beauty. “There’s a piece out there dedicated to Sarah Palin, who I fell in love with,” he says, pointing at a tall, slender gray-granite sculpture, “I would rather have a beauty queen running the show than another Ivy League lawyer. I don’t care what color he is.”
Huntington doesn’t consider himself a political artist, but it was precisely his views on politics and artistic philosophy that forced him out of the New York art community after a 26-year run—and his financial struggles. “It was a wonderful social milieu; I just couldn’t stretch the money. I had to sell my place in New York,” he says in a tone of resilience. Being a financially stable artist hasn’t been easy for Huntington, but he has sold enough pieces to sustain him throughout his entire adult life.
He was already in his fifties when the pop culture phenomenon of the eighties and early nineties was first introduced into the art world. His back rested against a wooden work table, he recalls a defining yet lighthearted conversation he shared with a young student from the Cooper Union School of Art right before he left New York. Standing upright, he vividly reenacts what the young boy said to him that day: “You actually make sculptures! The radical feminist lesbians were constantly beating up on me because I want to make objects. They said, ‘You gotta get some polemic! You gotta get some politics in your work!’” Standing inside one of the white steel warehouses that he bought during his move to Texas, Huntington reaffirms, “For serious artists, it was time to go underground.”
Huntington admits that he’s become a hermit these days but sees this as a natural life progression. Years ago, he made the conscious decision of never having children in order to fully devote himself to sculpting. He slowly paces outside into the sun again, Cheyenne—a medium-sized yellow mix that followed him home one day ten years ago—trailing behind him every step of the way. He stops for a few seconds to coax his dog with a some words of affection and then mentions, “I’ve sacrificed a couple of good women along the way because I didn’t want to have children.” As he walks between his sculptures, he says with a chuckle, “I was an only child, my father was an only child, and my dog’s an only child.”
When asked if he considers his sculptures a surrogate for a living legacy, Huntington quickly dismisses this possibility. He only sees himself as a facilitator in the process of creating art that will survive him. “That’s where I wanna hit people—in their gut and in their heart and not necessarily their head. My work is about the center, the soul,” he says motioning with his right hand against his stomach.
The clouds have blocked the sun and the out-of-towners are all done enjoying their free admission to the sculpture garden this Sunday afternoon. Now Huntington has a three o’clock appointment with his television to watch Danica Patrick—who he’s dedicated a sculpture to—take on a race this afternoon. He heads back into his studio with Cheyenne a step behind him. The entire town of Coupland is quiet, at least until the next day when Huntington comes out to his driveway again and decides to start beating on his rocks.