About Charles Cropper Parks
The Man Behind the Art
The scenic Brandywine River, with its covered bridges and lush landscape, has long been a powerful muse for painters, illustrators and sculptors, including Charles Parks. “I grew up around the Brandywine, and it’s part of me,” said Parks in the 1999 documentary “Charles Parks: Working Artist.”
For years, Parks lived and worked in Bancroft Mills, a former textile mill on the Brandywine, which now houses condominiums and offices. While he worked, he often stood or sat beside the studio’s nearly floor-to-ceiling windows. “I’ve seen all sides of the Brandywine for all my life, and to have a building like this – where the wall goes right into the river – was something very special for me,” he mused in the documentary.
Parks’ legacy is as much a part of the area’s heritage as the river he loved. Rooted in the Delaware area, he never wanted to frequent avant-garde European galleries. Nor did he seek a place in the celebrity-filled art scene in New York. He simply wanted to live near the water, quietly creating work that honored his subjects and touched people’s hearts.
The artist has been linked with Realism, which depicts a subject – often an everyday person or animal – as it appears in real life. His work has also been called representational since it depicts real people and objects. Parks delved into abstract art, but he was never as comfortable in that realm. “If I were aiming at a smaller audience, a particularly elite audience that knows all about the development of the modern schools of art, I would do something different,” he said in the documentary. “But I’m not trying to reach them. I’m trying to reach people where they live...Where they live is home, and it’s their relationship with the world at large that I’m trying to communicate with.” He also adored the figure, whether it was of a human or an animal, and he used a child’s plump cheek, an outstretched palm, a focused gaze or a regal profile to convey meaning. “If I want to communicate with people – in sculpture – I need to use a symbol that everyone understands,” he said. “The human figure is obviously the most practical approach.”
Yet, as Parks demonstrates, the figure can take many forms, from the mermaid caught in a happy plunge – two tails arched toward an imaginary surface – to the serene young girl perched on a sunflower. The versatile Parks made portrait busts, portrait figures, liturgical figures, state seals and animals. He worked with bronze, steel, plaster, fiberglass, wood, terra cotta and marble. Bronze, though, remained his favorite medium.
To the gentle artist, the life-sized sculpture of a chubby-legged toddler was just as important as the more than 30-feet-tall, stainless steel Madonna. “There is a profundity in everybody,” he said. His job, he continued, was to “seek out and reveal that profundity.” His mission never waivered. By the time of his death in 2012, he’d produced more than 500 figurative sculptures, many of which now stand in city squares, on college campuses, in front of corporate headquarters and in private homes. His legacy is prominent in the Brandywine Valley, which spans parts of southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware, and in his home state, where there are at least 40 public sculptures by Parks. But his impact in the art world is international and enduring.