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Meet Fort Worth’s hometown sculptor, Deran Wright, who has cast hundreds of bronzes

By Rebecca ChristophersonApril 23, 2024No Comments

Meet Fort Worth’s hometown sculptor, Deran Wright, who has cast hundreds of bronzes

By Linda Blackwell Simmons
Photography by Olaf Growald

Deran Wright has cast hundreds of bronzes in his decades-long career

Local artist Deran Wright has cast hundreds of bronze sculptures since he started his craft in 1979. His most famous local work sits in a plaza at Main and Weatherford streets in downtown Fort Worth.

The 8-foot-long sleeping panther has not awakened since it began its nap in 2002. Panthers are an iconic symbol of Fort Worth. The chronicle dates to the 1800s when a local lawyer wrote an editorial in a Dallas newspaper commenting that Fort Worth was so dead, that he once saw a panther napping on the street. On a mild day in December 2002, Wright unveiled the panther, surrounded by history buffs and dignitaries.

Deran Wright’s most known sculpture in North Texas is of the 8-foot sleeping panther he installed in downtown Fort Worth in 2002.

“Thanks for coming,” Wright said during his short speech, true to his humble nature. “I had fun making this, and I hope you like it.”

Children in the crowd swarmed the panther as the drapery was pulled back.

“It’s been over 22 years since I created the panther, and of all my work, it remains my favorite,” Wright said. “Kids still like to climb on it. It’s a great place to get your picture taken.”

Wright, a Fort Worth native and a fifth-generation Texan, was 41 when he created the panther. Wright’s mother recognized his talent when he was only a toddler and began drawing faces he recognized. His school yearbooks are full of drawings of classmates, and he began illustrating for Texas magazines and newspapers while still in his teens.

“I never doubted what I wanted to do in my life,” Wright said. “I have always been captivated by three-dimensional forms.”

The raw material used for sculpting varies and may include stone, metal, wood, plaster, clay and wax. Wright uses clay and wax and finalizes with bronze, although he sculpted furniture from wood in his earlier years.

Wright crafted his first bronze sculpture as a teenager: a kneeling boy. His second one, more ambitious, depicted the mythological Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun. His third sculpture was his first commissioned work — a small eagle for a local gallery.

Wright’s work often represents animals and creatures — figures from myth and legend like King Arthur, the Minotaur, gnomes, pixies and dragons, topics he enjoyed reading about as a child.

He also produces sculptures of historical and contemporary figures. Those include football players Davey O’Brien, who played for TCU and later won the Heisman Trophy; Jason Witten, who played for the Dallas Cowboys; and Jerry Russell, founder of Stage West Theatre.

One of his works — a commissioned sculpture of three children reaching for learning and liberty — was presented in 1989 to President George H.W. Bush at the White House.

Wright’s small studio is in his North Richland Hills home.

“The process of casting a sculpture in bronze is complex and time-consuming,” he points out. “It dates to about 2,500 BCE, and it has changed very little.”

Deran Wright estimates he’s cast hundreds of bronze sculptures in a career spanning more than four decades.

He has his sculptures cast at the Schaefer Art Bronze Casting foundry in Arlington. Wright’s minivan accommodates smaller pieces, but for larger ones, he arranges larger vehicles. For one piece, he needed an 18-wheeler and flatbed.

Wright follows the sculpture as it makes its way through casting, to ensure it remains true to his vision. From start to finish, casting a bronze in the foundry may take three to six months.

Much of Wright’s work is from commissions. “A life-size sculpture of a person can easily range from $90,000 to $170,000, depending on a range of factors including crating and shipping,” Wright said.

His work is featured at Camp Topridge and Paul Smith’s College in New York’s Adirondacks; the Hometown North Richland Hills development; Old Parkland, an exclusive private business park in Dallas; businessman Harlan Crow’s home in Dallas; and in the collections of numerous private patrons. He collaborated with the architect to create the large bronze ark doors at Fort Worth’s Beth-El Congregation, another of Wright’s favorites and the one that required the truck and flatbed.

And he recently completed two larger-than-life sculptural portraits of Florida philanthropist Katherine Sawyer Booth. Both were sent to Kenya in honor of Booth’s founding of several schools there.

“We were very lucky to find someone like him,” Booth said. “He was hard-working trying to get it exactly in my image and he succeeded. It looks exactly like me.” (Booth passed away last year during the writing of this article.)

Wright recently finished a commission from Mark Keegan, a noted canine handler in Littleton, Colorado, who hired Wright to sculpt a Gordon setter on point.

“Deran’s unique artistic abilities transcend his skill transforming wax forms into bronze sculptures,” Keegan said. “He carefully listens to a client, understands clearly what is desired and then delivers exceptional artistry in the final piece.”

In addition to sculpture, Deran Wright makes and collects walking sticks.

Another work, commissioned by William Caylor of Lexington, Kentucky, was of Aurora, goddess of the dawn in Roman mythology. This 4-foot bronze sculpture is of a female nude raising her arms to the sky.

“The process was very confusing to me,” Caylor said. “I was lost. I showed him some examples — photos, rough drawings and pictures of bronze statues from museums. The sketch I received from Deran reflected exactly what I was looking for.”

Wright is currently working on a few pieces he cannot fully discuss because they’re surprises for the recipients. One is a portrait of a couple, another a corporate retirement gift. He also has a plaque in the works to honor a worthy individual, also a surprise.

And while Wright’s primary activity is sculpting, he still “dabbles” — his word — in illustration. He recently collaborated with Richard Selcer on a book published by TCU Press, “Fort Worth, Texas: That’s My Town!” Wright did the 82 drawings. The book is dedicated “to all the kids who did not have a Fort Worth history of their own in school.” This is one of the reasons Wright took on the project — his love of children.

“I’d call Deran the ‘Pied Piper of Art,’” Selcer said. “He loves kids, and they love his artistic creations.”

Additionally, Wright recently self-published an illustrated Edgar Allen Poe poem, “The Raven,” that is selling online at deranwright.com and The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

Never idle, Wright also collects and makes walking sticks, draws with fountain pens, tinkers with old cars, enjoys local live theater and music, and reads up on history.

“At this point, it’s all about having fun and keeping the creative juices flowing,” he said.