As the sun shone down through the boughs in Prospect Park, a woman's naked body lay on a workbench.
Her body is nearly perfect; her shape is defined by smooth curves, symmetry and just the right amount all allure. The problem is, no one can talk to her for she’s made out of wood.
The sculptor responsible for the woman, poised with a wood chisel, chips little bits off of the woman's wooden torso.
"She doesn’t have a name, that’s not how I work," said Stephen Rudley, . “I don’t have names for any of my pieces.”
She is made out of two pieces of basswood, which is a lightweight wood that is not too heavy for Rudley to carry on his workbench on wheels, which he made to bring to the park.
An interesting characteristic of Rudley’s woman of wood is that she seems to be a few of months pregnant.
“It just looks that way—it kind of made itself. That’s how the line took me. I don’t know if she’s pregnant or not, but I love how she looks,” Rudley said. “She’s beautiful.”
The sculptor, who sets up shop on a small hill in Prospect Park, just off Prospect Park West (Rudley did not want me to reveal the exact location) every week, said the nice weather makes me feel great and helps inspire him to create bodies of beauty.
“Look around you—it’s just beautiful. This is the most beautiful spot and no one ever bothers me,” Rudley said, explaining that the Prospect Park Alliance and Parks Department know about him and like his work. “It’s helps me work when my studio is this beautiful.”
Rudley sculpts in the park year-round, even in the snow. The last time Patch ran into him it was January and 20 degrees.
As the wind blew and small chips of basswood flew off the woman’s stomach with each push of Rudley’s chisel, he looked over his red-framed glasses perched on the tip of his nose.
“I love how windy it is today, it gives off this air of mystery,” he said as he went back to work.
And as the mysterious wind blew on the sunny spring day, Rudley spoke of his mother.
His mom, Ann Loring who starred in movies like “Robin Hood of El Dorado” (1936), was not always a movie star.
Rudley said that Loring became a movie star by “accident.”
“Her sister submitted a picture of her into a beauty contest, and she won,” he said while standing in a small pile of basswood chips. “They flew her out to Hollywood when she was 21 years old for screen shots and that was it.”
The first movie she starred in was “Robin Hood of El Dorado” with Warren Baxter. Then she played Zelda Tadema in “Absolute Quiet” (1936). From 1956 to 1970, she played Tammy Forrest in the soap opera “Love of Life.” From that show she won Emmys for daytime actress in 1961, '62 and '63.
“When I was in grade school I’d come home for lunch and when I’d try to talk to my grandma she would say, ‘Quiet, quiet, your mother is on,’” Rudley remembered.
Loring was also a TV writer, author and a teacher at the New School in Manhattan for more than 20 years. Rudley also said she was the president of the New York local of The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and a trustee and governor of the National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences.
But what he remembers most is her holding writing workshops in their home, in Bensonhurst. He said that many writers looked up to her for guidance and edits.
When asked how he became a sculptor, he said that it was a gradual process.
When he was in his 20s a friend who was serious artist and made sculptures out of tree trunks, gave him a piece of wood one day.
“I said Richard, I don’t feel like doing this,” Rudley remembered. So he didn’t for a while. But one day, he was inspired and he took the block of wood and made a bird’s head.
“It just took off from there,” the sculptor said.
The woman he is currently making started off like all his pieces—just a rectangular block of wood.
“I stared at it for a while until I got an idea,” he explained.
Once he starts though, it’s not up to him—it’s up to the wood what direction the piece goes. He said he never ends with the piece that he thought of doing at first.
“I just love the feeling of carving wood on my workbench and I let it take control,” he said. “At some points I do say, ‘This is absolutely nothing,’ but I push through the feeling of uselessness and disappointment until it becomes something.”
During his work sculpting the woman, it she wasn’t panning out until part of the right breast started to reveal itself and then he continued. Then, the pregnant stomach appeared and he just “went with it.”
But, the sculpture is not what’s most important to Rudley, instead it’s the act of sculpting.
“The moment is the most important to me. The moment is so beautiful: the wind is blowing and I take out a gauge and you see something coming to fruit,” he said. “I begin to see the change coming and it’s all about that moment.”
However, Rudley has another reason he comes out to the park with a piece of wood:
“And it’s manly, too,” he said. “It gives me an excuse to come out and work with tools, and there’s nothing better than that.”