Artist Alan Collins is at his house in southern Oregon, waiting for a shipment of eight-foot blocks of Styrofoam. His next bronze sculpture is a commissioned work for Oakwood College, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Huntsville, Alabama. It will be a two-figured work—Simon of Cyrene lifting the cross from Jesus.
Collins says Simon of Cyrene is recorded in the Bible as an “African,” but he was from a Greek city and many commentators say he was Jewish. Simon was likely visiting Jerusalem for Passover when the Romans told him to assist Jesus. In the sculpture for Oakwood, Collins plans to portray Simon with the physique of an athlete.
“I think he [Simon] would have stood out among the crowd as being capable of the job,” says Collins.
Collins, a member of the Central Medford Seventh-day Adventist Church in Oregon, is an internationally known sculptor who was honored in Florence, Italy, in December as a participant in the prestigious Fortezza da Basso Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Art.
He downplays the recognition, but admits it can be a draw for clients. Recently, he carved Roman-style letters into a Jacksonville County, Oregon, library. Officials there bragged about his honor. “They played it up,” says Collins.
Since coming to the United States in 1968 from Britain, he has produced sculptures for churches, colleges, universities and hospitals. Private collectors have commissioned portraits or bought his smaller sculptures.
He has also taught art at Adventist colleges in Massachusetts, Michigan and California.
Collins is most proud of his 2002 work, “The Glory of God’s Grace,” at La Sierra University in Southern California where he used to teach. “The chance to show the nature of God through a piece—it’s remarkable,” he says.
His expression through art was recognized early in life. “I would always draw things as a child, like most children do,” says Collins. “We didn’t have television. I rather rue the amount of time kids sit in front of a flickering screen, not all of which is healthy.”
After an outing to an historic building with some relatives, his mother would ask him what he saw. He would get frustrated, feeling he was unable to describe it in words: he’d rather draw a picture.
Collins created his first sculpture at age 16. He studied in the British high school system, but attended Wimbledon School of Art on weekends. After high school he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art.
His family was introduced to the Adventist Church by Thomas J. Bradley, an Australian pastor who conducted an evangelistic meeting in Corydon, England. At the time, he and his family were members of a gospel church, but were impressed with the message of prophecy Adventists believed.
“Along came the Sabbath question and it’s something we gagged on awhile,” he says. “Then we realized this was consistent with the message of salvation by faith.”
Collins was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors and awarded The Sir Otto Beit Medal in 1964 for stone sculpture at Guildford Cathedral in Surrey County, England. He was also commissioned to design and carve England’s memorial to the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy at Runnymede.
He says Aristide Maillol, a French sculptor who died in 1944, inspires his work. That artist’s works, Collins says, were architectural in character. He describes Maillol as a classical contemporary of Rodin, who was emotional and produced gothic works.
Collins doesn’t work on Saturdays. “The Sabbath, it’s a wonderful creation,” he says. “[It’s] a reminder of creation and that we were made for fellowship with God.”
He is married to Aliki (Greek for “Alice”); Jeanne, his first wife, died in 1992 of cancer. His son, an attorney, and his daughter, an advertising executive, live on the east coast of the United States. His grandson is living with them this year while attending Rogue Valley Adventist School.
It’s a solitary life in the studio, Collins says. Not a lot of Christian witnessing opportunities, per se, but he says he doesn’t get lonely. The studio has always been his place to play. His current studio is an adapted double garage with skylights.
“The car stands on the drive and fends for itself,” he says.