Dan Brook: An Artist's Vision
When alumnus Dan Brook returned to the Baylor campus last year to begin working on statues of World War II heroes John Kane and Jack Lummus, which the University had commissioned to honor the Baylor graduates, it gave him a welcome chance to reconnect with his alma mater.
In many ways, however, Brook had never left Baylor. The lessons he learned and the friendships he formed during his days as a student in Waco and a member of the football team have stayed with him over the years, helping to guide and inspire his career as a sculptor.
“I felt like I was walking among giants, both in the classroom and on the athletic field,” Brook said about his time at Baylor. “The experience made a better man out of me.”
“I believe all of us have a calling that we can discover. I just had to let myself fall through the cracks of society and begin that journey to figure out why I was here.”
A 1983 Baylor graduate, Brook played defensive end on the 1980 team that won the Southwest Conference championship and played in the Cotton Bowl under legendary coach Grant Teaff. “My claim to fame was playing on the same team as Mike Singletary and Walter Abercrombie. We had great players and great guys,” Brook said. “I have stayed in touch with some of them, and Coach Teaff remains a close friend. Those were seminal days for me.”
For his part, Coach Teaff remembers Brook as a fundamentally sound football player who possessed the intangibles of character that provide a foundation for success. “Dan was a true student of the game and was meticulous about anything he was involved in — just like he is now,” Teaff said from his home in Waco. “He was a very good competitor.”
A Winding Path
Brook graduated from Baylor with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but instead of pursuing a career in that field, he dove headfirst into the world of commercial real estate in Dallas. “I made good money for about nine years, but the only day I enjoyed was payday,” Brook recalled. “It was a classic tale of being a square peg in a round hole. I believe all of us have a calling that we can discover. I just had to let myself fall through the cracks of society and begin that journey to figure out why I
Brook’s development as an artist began, he said, when he and a friend were at an art fair and happened to see a sculptor at work. Finding himself drawn to what he was witnessing, he struck up a conversation. The artist, who happened to be the renowned portrait sculptor Dr. B.N. Walker, gave him information about a class he taught. Brook immediately signed up.
“At the end of the class, I walked out of there calling myself an artist, and I kept calling myself an artist until I finally was,” Brook said. “He’s still my mentor, he’s 89 and still working.”
Having worked as a sculptor for three decades, with work commissioned and collected across the United States as well as in the Middle East and Europe, Brook now maintains his studio in Cisco, a small town east of Abilene, where he and his wife, Dianna, moved after living in Dallas for many years. His success as an artist, he said, can be attributed to his Native American roots.
“My earliest memories are of drawing,” Brook said. “It was very common among Native peoples to have some sort of talent in the arts, be it with the hands or in performance arts like dance and music. Those things came very naturally to me.”
Brook was born in the Creek Nation of Oklahoma and spent his early years growing up on a ranch near Okemah. “My playmates were all Creek, of varying degrees,” he said. “A lot of us were mixed blood, but most of us were either all or part Native.”
His father, a Creek citizen, was a second-generation rancher and cowboy, and his mother was white. “My parents were both big believers in education,” he said. “My father was already westernized. His father was white, an attorney by education.”
Once Brook moved on from his apprenticeship with Walker and became established on his own, one of his early commissions was a portrait of Claude Cox, who served as the Creek Nation’s chief from 1970 to 1990. Brook has since done several busts of other Native American leaders as well as the Trail of Tears monument in Tulsa — an 18-foot bronze sculpture of flames that was dedicated in 2009.
Brook’s reputation for excellence in his craft and dependability in his profession have led to increasing commissions over the years. “Often I’m part of a building project connected to a state government, a municipality or a university,” he said. “I enjoy working with architects. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the largest firms in the world, such as HKS in Dallas. I consider them fellow artists.”
One of the few sculptors who create in both figurative and contemporary styles, Brook is a master in bronze, terracotta and lucite. He is currently working on a full-figure bronze statue of his former football mentor for McMurry University in Abilene, where Grant Teaff first served as a head coach.
“Dan should be recognized for his remarkable artistic ability,” Teaff said. “I have great admiration for his work and the man he is.”
Understandably, this project is quickly becoming one of Brook’s favorites. “Coach Teaff was a big part of why I came to Baylor,” Brook said. “And after I walked-on to the football team, he eventually awarded me a scholarship and I lettered. It’s nice to come full circle with this commissioned statue.”
Haag Sherman, B.B.A. ’88, who with wife, Millette Sherman, provided funding and leadership for the design and installation of the bronze statues of Lummus and Kane on the McLane Stadium esplanade, said Brook’s reputation and portfolio of work made him the leading candidate for the Baylor project.
“He was my first call on this project,” Sherman said. “When I met Dan, I knew he was the right person. He is a superior artist and an even better person.”
Honoring the Past
Brook said he draws much of his inspiration from his culture, which provides him with an abundant resource of images, customs and history. It also is a culture to which he has devoted a good deal of his personal time and professional skills, having worked for his tribe in three different positions toward the beginning of his career as an artist. The last position he held was director of tribal affairs, a position responsible for about 100 staff members across five departments and one that interacted with the U.S. government.
Such leadership runs in his blood. One of his ancestors is the Muscogee (Creek) leader Alexander McGillivray, also known as Hoboi-Hili-Miko, who helped to negotiate and signed the Treaty of New York with the Washington administration in 1790.
As is the case in many Native American communities, however, tragedy and suffering also form a central part of his family’s story, with one of Brook’s great-grandmothers having been made to leave her homeland during the forced relocation of Native Americans from the South known as the Trail of Tears.
“They were driven like cattle to Fort Gibson in Oklahoma and then held there for a year before being allowed to settle on the land,” Brook said. “The Trail of Tears is now recognized by historians as genocide.”
Nevertheless, Brook added, patriotism also runs strongly in his blood and throughout Native American populations across the country, which he noted serve in high numbers in the U.S. military. “Our experience tempers our view of America, but instead of weakening our love of the land it has made it strong. My tribe lived in North America for 4,000 years, so you can imagine how bonded to the land we are,” he said. “You can’t embrace history without acknowledging that there is good and bad — bigotry and oppression — throughout the story of mankind, in every race and group. I’m proud of how the Creeks have forgiven and laid all that angst aside, not allowing the past to hold them hostage.”
Powers of Insight
Reflecting on his work creating the statues of fellow Baylor student-athletes Kane and Lummus, who each were awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery during World War II, Brook said the project meant a great deal to him.
“There was such greatness in those two men and the others who fought for our country. They represented the best of Baylor,” Brook said. “Therefore, their statues had to be great work. That project was a mountain for me to climb but, after 30 years as a sculptor, I knew I was ready to climb it. I have to give a lot of credit to Haag Sherman and his family, who gave the money to make the recognition of these two men possible.”
Sherman said Brook brought a commitment to perfection and a personal passion to his work in sculpting the statues. “Dan has a special quality about him, as a person, and he understood the importance of these men to Baylor and its mission,” he said. “The Baylor Family is fortunate to have the spirit and ideals of two of our greatest alumni captured so beautifully by one of our great living ones.”
Brook said that after gathering as many images of Kane and Lummus as he could, he spent a number of hours meditating on what he saw. People fascinate me,” he said. “I’ve always studied and watched people. There is so much you can learn about someone without them ever opening their mouths.”
Brook noted that his approach to figurative sculpture, like the Kane and Lummus statues, is equal parts technique and intuition. He explained that with the statues being seven and a half feet tall, there were technical steps he had to go through to successfully achieve such enlargement.
“But it takes both technique and inspiration to achieve great art. What I’m trying to do is sculpt what’s inside a person. It’s intuitive and spiritual,” Brook said. “Ancient Creek artists would ask the Great Spirit to fill their hands before they worked. When beginning a new work I ask God to do the same thing, and He always does.”