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Artist David Nunneley Launched Successful Sculpture Career at 65

David Nunnely's commissioned sculptures finclude pieces for West Point Military Academy, Gilcrease Museum and NatureWorks of Tulsa.

It’s commonplace to hear about people who take a hobby or skill they have long practiced and turn it into a second career after retirement.

But it is a bit rarer to hear about someone like David Nunneley, who waited until age 65 to begin studying a past love of his – art – and within years became a successful sculptor of public monuments and other bronzes.

Sculpting at age 80

If you live in Tulsa, you have likely seen one of David’s early commissions, the Rotary Club Centennial Sculpture at Williams Plaza. Done in collaboration with artist Jay O’Meilia, the installation features a large globe with figures encircling it.

David’s first commission stands in the town of Broken Arrow, and depicts a child holding hands with a cowboy and a Creek woman. David says he was the most surprised of anyone when he was chosen from 97 applicants, all of whom were established artists.

Since then, David has created several pieces for the West Point U.S. Military Academy, thanks to his close friendship with Tiny Tomsen, a Tulsa conservationist, fellow Inverness Village resident and West Point alumnus.

Now 80, David has created more than 25 public monuments, including one recently installed at Tulsa's Gilcrease Museum.

Like opening Pandora’s box

“It costs money to be a sculptor,” David says when explaining why he did not begin sculpting until ending his career as a businessman. “I had taken some art classes in high school and college, and did some art on my own through the years, but it was never something I considered pursuing as a career. But after selling my last business, I committed myself to being trained by people who were making their living from it.

“After getting that first commission, it was like opening Pandora’s box.”

In addition to the actual artistic process, David enjoys delving into the lives and researching the historical figures which comprise the bulk of his commissions. “I like to learn about their demeanor and mannerisms and what they were like as a person,” he says.

David does that work from the apartment he shares with his wife Marilyn at Inverness Village, and travels to his studio a quick 14 miles away to sculpt the clay forms that become his bronzes. Their move has led to one new artwork so far; after installing a hummingbird feeder on their balcony, he created a red-throated hummingbird sculpture.

Bringing joy of art to all

David credits his move to Inverness to his friendship with Tiny. Both serve on the board of NatureWorks, a Tulsa conservation and arts program that is responsible for bringing many beautiful public statues to the region.

“Tiny and his wife were looking for a place to move and downsize, so I let him do all the research and then report back to me over dinner and scotch,” David jokes. “But, in seriousness, after they decided Inverness Village was the best one in the area, Marilyn and I started thinking it was about time for us to do the same.”

Though the Tomsens and Nunneleys are still new to the community, Inverness residents have already benefitted from their move.

Tiny donated his collection of 26 bronze maquettes of NatureWorks sculptures. These pieces, which are small-scale preliminary works done by the artists, are now installed in the central lobby at Inverness Village. David brought a life-size deer sculpture from his home and installed it by Inverness Village’s large, central pond.

“That way I can see him, but many others can enjoy him too,” he says. “I’ve been gratified to get some compliments on it.”

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