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Working with dummies pays off sometimes

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Few people can say they work with a lot of dummies and not risk offending them.Matt Vickers can. And when he’s done with them, he also can box them up and send them away.Wherever they go, Vickers knows, they’re likely to put a smile on people’s faces.Millie, Sylvester and Curly are just some of the life-sized, lifelike dummies that Vickers is involved in producing and selling as fine art, and fun art. The creations pose as whimsical waitresses, butlers, chefs and other characters in the homes of buyers who have a sense of humor when it comes to art.”I call them dummies, but they’re not,” Vickers says of the tight-lipped friends that he assembles in a workshop at the home he recently bought on Cattle Creek between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.Instead they are manifestations of sculptural hyperrealism. The hands and faces, and any other exposed flesh, are made of silicone, making them seem eerily real. Created by fine artists, these silicone body parts appear to have veins, pores, wrinkles and age spots, and hair sprouting from them.

The artists deliver their limited-edition works to Vickers, who then builds the rest of the dummies’ bodies by using forms made of materials such as polyurethane and fiberglass, and then covering them with clothing that adds to the life of each character. Once the characters are fully put together, he sells them in galleries operated by him, his father, Phil, and an uncle. Vickers also markets the sculptures through a Web site, http://www.sculpturedealer.com, a subsidiary of The Art Marketing Group.The sculptures are in fact just a side business for Vickers, whose principal job is working in the family art galleries.”It’s a small niche market, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s a really fun market,” he said.Vickers’ entry into that market is a result of a longtime association with the art business. His parents, now divorced, owned the Jill Vickers Gallery in Aspen, where he grew up after being born in Denver. Now 32, he helps with family galleries in Vail and Beaver Creek, and in Idaho. The family also is opening a location in Sedona, Ariz.Vickers majored in entrepreneurial studies at the University of Colorado and after college worked in nonprofit fundraising in Aspen before returning to his gallery roots. In the process he became aware of North Carolina artist Tom Kuebler’s incredibly realistic replications of the human form in silicone.The drawback? Building a sculpture of an entire body in silicone would result in a piece of art costing about $30,000.By reducing the use of silicone only to areas of exposed flesh, Vickers can offer sculptures retailing for about $5,000.Other artists who work with Vickers include Rob Burman, who is a third-generation Hollywood make-up artist, and Sandra Brue, whose talents include creating a resin-cast English bulldog.On a recent visit, one of her animals sat guarding the entrance of Vickers’ workshop, waiting for the thin polyurethane drool that Vickers had hung from his mouth to dry, after which it still would look as slobbery as ever and would continue to sway in a breeze.Behind the bulldog stood “Curly,” an elderly butler in black tuxedo and bearing a silver serving tray. Nearby, “Millie,” a waitress in a pink, 1950-ish uniform, twisted her lips as if to question a customer’s menu item choices.

With a change in outfit, Millie can be converted to Mildred, a maid with a feather duster and an attitude.Similarly, a character named Sylvester can serve as a security guard, chef or dog valet, depending on a customer’s wishes.Vickers and his artists have come up with other characters as well, from a piano player, to Jesus and Pontius Pilate – the latter two special orders for a Christian-based theme park.”I think I’m going to do a fly fisherman. That would do well in mountain towns,” Vickers said.But he’s found over the years that few sculptures go over nearly as well as those that work in server roles.”They become interactive art for people’s homes,” said Vickers.People love to place flowers and other items on the butler’s platter, or adorn him with a mask for Halloween or a hat for Christmas. “People love them,” Vickers said of the sculptures. “They can touch them, they can feel them. People love how they feel.”Businesses will buy the sculptures and have them hold signs or business cards, as marketing tools. A big Denver-area liquor retailer bought a dozen to grace the aisles of its store. Vickers ships his sculptures in what he jokingly calls “coffin boxes” because of their size.



“They’re a funny thing to have arrive at your door,” he said.He’s used to taking a ribbing when it comes to his sculpture business.”I think half my friends think I’m nuts, as do the neighbors,” he said.But it’s part of a way of making a living that gives him flexibility to travel to track meets with his wife, Carrie Messner-Vickers, a professional runner specializing in the steeplechase.Hundreds of the sculptures have been sold in a total of 40 states and 10 countries. Vickers also has dabbled in a nonartistic application for the sculptures, creating lifelike torsos of police officers that have been used by departments in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Vail area and elsewhere to sit in parked squad cars and give the appearance they’re on radar duty.”It’s great because it slows traffic but nobody gets a ticket,” Vickers said.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO


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