First published: Autumn 2022
Working in a bus, Bill Brady creates sculptures inspired by nature, aviation and his old sketchbooks
Off a partly gravel road near Centerville (pop. 176), in northwestern Pennsylvania, a rusted steel, blue school bus has been parked in the woods behind the Brady family home since William Jr drove it back from California in 1985. Purchasing it for $900 from a US Navy base in Maine in the mid-1960s, he removed the seats, replaced sections of the roof and the back-end with glass and skylight designs – taken from his own sketchbooks – and added a sleeping loft over the middle section. William “Bill’ Brady still sleeps under the stars inside the metal-ribbed, glass cupola ceiling. He partly lives in the now-vacant family house, but a conventional bedroom would dislodge him from his immersive commune with nature: “I just sort of live in it [nature], I’m always waiting for a good thunderstorm.” Something of a self-described hermit, in the springtime he chops firewood for the two heating stoves in the bus, and then spends most of the winter making his sculptures in the glass-enclosed, solder-iron scented studio at the rear.
Untitled, c. 2000s, 10 x 18 x 4 in. / 25.5 x 45.5 x 10 cm
Brady creates his sculptures referencing the drawings in his numerous sketchbooks, some of which are decades old. They include illustrations of dirigibles, rockets, space and sailing ships, air and land vehicles, sculptures, mural designs, and doodles, as well as drawings for building a fantasy house. One shows a dwelling that is suspended between huge trees with a long ladder down to the ground; another – elevated on a several-story column – connects by suspension bridge to a hillside; others are based on the shapes of mushrooms. As with his customised bus, the glass and steel buildings are intended to harmonise with nature, like geodesic domes.
Untitled, 2020,16 x 16 x 36 in. / 40.5 x 40.5 x 91.5 cm
Brady's interest in dirigibles dates from childhood when, in the 1950s, his family stayed at a relative’s summer home near Lakehurst, New Jersey. He was enthralled by the sight of airships, (reportedly) following Soviet submarines along the coastline. One sketchbook drawing shows “my idea of having dirigibles in the upper atmosphere to pull boats through the water”.
Brady at his exhibition at the Erie Art Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania, in 2018
Born in the Philadelphia area in 1943 with severe dyslexia and a stutter, Brady first attended a public school. His parents and teachers believed that he was simply not applying himself to learning to read and write. After repeatedly failing kindergarten, he was sent to a private school. Art classes on moulding clay and building paper mobiles offered refuge but letter combinations remained incomprehensible. At home, he made model aeroplanes and built a balsa-wood castle in his room. He has always liked building things and finds it hard to understand why his youthful aptitudes were not encouraged. Although his father – a steel mill superintendent and accomplished metal artisan – taught him metal-smithing (Brady enjoyed making tin lanterns), he was discouraged from pursuits that would not lead to literacy. Sent back to public school, he was eventually deemed uneducable, and the 17-year-old ninth grader was asked to leave.
By FRED SCRUTON
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #112