October 20, 2016
Martin Dawe may not be a household name to all Atlantans, but his impressive sculptures sprinkled across the city landscape are recognized by many.
From the World Athletes Monument at Pershing Point in Midtown to the outdoor classroom at The Galloway School, Dawe’s works — churned out of a West Midtown studio — are beloved locally and are now also being cherished across the globe.
“The fact that we have someone located off Howell Mill in Midtown that is doing commissions installed all over the world is quite remarkable,” said Frank T. Mann, art student, Dawe friend and senior director of Cushman & Wakefield. “Just think, the CDC is fostering global relationships out of Atlanta and we have the world-respected Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as well as CNN, Coca-Cola and others. And now, certainly to a much smaller degree, we have Martin Dawe, who is creating good, positive things that represent a different side of Atlanta and I just think it’s great for our city and really amazing.”
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dawe grew up in Maplewood, N.J. The son of British parents — his father was a Manhattan financier — he ventured toward the arts at a young age, but chose to study science right out of high school for fear he couldn’t make any money as an artist.
He eventually followed his passion and attended Boston University School of Fine Arts and received a bachelor’s of fine arts in sculpture from Georgia State University. It was during his days at Georgia State that Dawe got an apprenticeship that changed the trajectory of his career. In 1980, he began an 8-year apprenticeship under sculptor Julian Harris, a Georgia Tech professor of architecture who taught for more than 30 years.
“I wouldn’t have a career if I hadn’t met him,” Dawe said. “He was 72 at the time and well-known in Atlanta. He taught me how to make a living as an artist.”
By 1987, Dawe had started his own custom sculpture studio and incorporated as CherryLion Studios in 1994. Known for his figurative and representational work, Dawe works as a commissioned artist in a variety of mediums. From CherryLion Studios, the largest custom sculpture studio in Georgia, he creates works ranging from loose, impressionist work to traditional sculptures in 19th century style for clients domestic and international.
“He is really talented … his work connects with people. He can create very lifelike figure sculptures and he is also very good at abstract art and he also is great at bas relief. Those are really different skills and yet he is gifted in all three,” Mann said.
Currently, Dawe is working on an 8-foot sculpture of John Wesley for the John C. Maxwell Leadership Center in Duluth and in July completed his largest commission to date — a 21-foot-long and 12-foot-tall bronze abstract that will be the focus piece in the lobby of a Raffles Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey.
“It’s a whole other level of art the business to be in, doing international over-scaled pieces. It’s been an incredible learning process,” Dawe said.
The Istanbul commission opportunity came through hospitality art consultants Soho Myriad, which has worked on numerous custom projects with Dawe for properties like the Abu Dhabi Nation St. Regis Towers, Dubai Ritz-Carlton and Miami JW Marriott Marquis.
“I can say without hesitation that I think he is one of Atlanta’s most accomplished sculptors. We are very lucky to have such a wonderful local resource,” said Heather Stewart, Soho Myriad senior art consultant.
Stewart, who’s known Dawe for nearly a decade, said she often thinks of him for client projects because of his talent for taking an abstract concept and flushing it out into a 3-D art piece.
“He can tell you exactly what is possible in which media and work aside you to dream up the impossible,” Stewart said. “He is also a businessman, so he understands the need to come to the table with invaluable feedback for our clientele regarding timelines, materials, budget, etc.”
Interior designer Smith Hanes, a close friend for 20 years, met Dawe while they were both living in the West Midtown warehouse district in the 1990s. Smith has commissioned projects from the sculptor for some of his restaurant clients over the years and said it’s Dawe’s positive outlook, ability to listen and execute tough projects that has made him sought after.
“He’s very mechanical and loves to accomplish the impossible. He is one of those people who figures out, from a drawing, how to make a sculpture thatis 30 feet tall,” Hanes said. “He is a problem-solver and has an amazing sense of commitment to detail.”
When approaching a new project, Dawe thrives on being involved in the initial design idea and working directly with clients to fulfill their goals. For the Galloway School’s outdoor classroom, which includes a lifelike sculpture of school founder Elliot Galloway, Dawe met with board members, teachers, alumni and students to discuss the project. He also watched video of Galloway to understand the late headmaster as a person.
“We had everyone from his family and the teachers critique the piece,” Dawe said. “We even put a crystal inside the bronze cast after it was done, because it felt right.”
Dawe can’t whittle down his vast number of commissions to a favorite, but in 2006, he completed one of his most beloved: a donor recognition project for the Atlanta Community Food Bank. After researching, brainstorming and searching for inspiration through words, Dawe settled on the word “Nourish” and brought its meaning to art through three sets of tables and chairs covered in relief panels, each embedded with donor recognition plates.
“Tables and chairs became metaphors for people being fed,” Dawe said. “The process of figuring it out for that specific situation, something that met a whole bunch of different goals that the board had, is one of my favorite parts.”
Another one of Dawe’s poignant projects is a sculpture at the Terminus building coined “Landing Gear.” The finished stainless steel figure appears to be landing on one hand with his foot and other hand in the air. In total, the sculpture entailed nearly 3,500 pounds of clay. It’s no surprise that, along with design process, Dawe said one of the best parts of his job is simply being able to spend days with his hands in the mud. “I love texture, shapes for shapes form regardless of what it implies or symbolizes. And I love mud,” he said. “It’s just fun. So much fun.”