Sculptor E. Spencer Schubert has made his name as artist commemorating famous Missourians, and others, in a way likely to land himself as a legend’
Dred Scott, Buck O’Neil, Mel Hancock, William Danforth, Rush Limbaugh, and Robert Heinlein all have two things in common: they are all part of the Hall of Famous Missourians and their busts were sculpted by E. Spencer Schubert.
The Kansas City native is one of three living artists to have their work lining the halls of the Capitol building in the Show-Me State. The majority of the inductees since 2011 were sculpted by Schubert.
Nestled in the Crossroads Arts District of Kansas City is Schubert’s studio where he memorializes people and events throughout the Midwest.
Portrait busts, both finished and in-progress, and monument sculptures line his workspace along with pieces of clay and foam that will eventually become full pieces of artwork. A 3D printer was tucked along the wall, working away at creating a reference Schubert can work off of.
Not only has he sculpted that busts of famous Missourians, but he created the 11-foot tall sculpture of Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder and the War Torn Tree monument in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He is currently working on a few top secret creations at the moment.
But being an artist wasn’t on Schubert’s radar as a young boy. He played three sports — football, basketball, and track — and had dreams of playing college hoops. It was not until the latter part of high school at Shawnee Mission East that he began to see a future in creating art with his hands.
Under the tutelage of Chuck Crawford, he took a silver smithing course his junior year. By the second semester of his senior year, Schubert was spending as much time as he could in the silver smithing room.
“And I just loved it. It was like the first time somebody took me seriously and was like ‘No, this is a serious thing you can do seriously,’” said Schubert. “And I have always loved making things and it was the first moment I thought ‘Oh, wow, this could be a job.’”
Awarded a scholarship to attend the University of Kansas, he switched to sculpture at the beginning of his college career and has pursued that course ever since.
He graduated from KU in 2000 and spent the next three to four years working in a basement perfecting the skill of making clay look like people.
“I was just being really hard on myself in a constructive way,” said Schubert.
It was about the time that he met his now-wife that he decided to see if he could make a go of having a studio and creating the pieces he wanted to.
“I was beginning to be in my mid-20s and everybody was getting jobs and doing that deal and I was like what am I going to do? And I decided to see if I can fail at having a studio and making stuff,” said Schubert.
His first few years he made whatever someone wanted him to make. He made a metal star that was three feet in diameter with lights on it for a person to put over their barn, he made a giant red ball that smashed a table, and he made a three-foot-tall Toyota car key for an ad agency.
Lined along the walls of his studio are various pieces he worked on for his own personal collection. He created a bust of Jay-Z in a top hat and overcoat. He did a self-portrait. A few of his “personal fun projects” include glitter.
But as his studio got busier, Schubert has had less time for his personal projects.
Schubert made whatever he could to make money, all the while knowing what he wanted to do was making big bronze sculptures.
Eventually, he got a couple commissions for bronze sculptures. Then a couple commissions turned into five, five turned into ten, and now he says no to people regularly.
Fast forward to 2018 and Schubert is busier than ever, completely commissions from all over the country. In a typical year, he completes anywhere from six to seven projects. A monument piece takes on average of one year to complete and a bust takes about eight months.
While giving a tour of his studio, he noted that back in high school, his talent wasn’t anything spectacular, he “just worked hard at it.”
It’s also a job he loves.
This piece is featured as part of the Missouri Times’ Winter Magazine.
Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at email@example.com.