Living Legend: John Soderberg back in the studio after pushing through health crisis

The first time I met John Soderberg, he was wearing a purple Santa swimsuit with a pillow stuffed within the stomach and his pure white hair and beard framing his mild eyes below the Santa hat. Every child ready in line to obtain a present from him and inform him their most heartfelt needs believed past a doubt he was the actual factor. And, in his life, he has confirmed them proper, with or with out the Santa swimsuit.

Soderberg, 71, grew up in Afghanistan, India and Thailand due to his father’s job as a civil engineer. By the time he graduated highschool, he had circled the world eight occasions and visited greater than 70 international locations. His path led him to the U.S. in 1968 to attend faculty however the tradition shock was an excessive amount of so he enlisted within the Marines in 1970.

He was honorably discharged in 1973 at an Arizona base and stayed within the state. Having been nurtured within the artwork world by his mother and father all through his life, John finally moved to Flagstaff and discovered the craft of bronze sculpting at a foundry there. Forty years later, his bronzes have been displayed in at the very least 10 international locations and he continues to show others his craft at his Sedona studio.

One of Soderberg’s present college students is somebody he considers to be promising as an artist.

“She’s one of my best protégés in all my years of sculpting and teaching,” Soderberg mentioned.

Jill Trenholm began her tutelage below John about three years in the past and he or she is at the moment engaged on a bust of Cernunnos, a Celtic deity.

“He’s the protector of the forest,” Trenholm mentioned. “When I first came to John, I wanted to sculpt a dragon. But he encouraged me to start with a head. I didn’t think I could do it, but John is a great teacher.”

Locally, one in every of Soderberg’s most well-known sculptures is the larger-than-life ‘Merlin’ that sits within the cobblestone driveway of the Whole Foods plaza on State Route 89A in West Sedona. What many might not know is there’s a water characteristic behind Merlin that features one other Soderberg items, ‘Merlin’s Chair,’ although the native children who usually take turns sitting in it check with it lovingly as ‘The Mermaid Chair.’

At Jack Jameson Memorial Park, Soderberg’s ‘Invocation’ depicts a Teysha Indian in conventional regalia with prolonged arms receiving presents of the earth, with grapes in a single hand and a gourd vessel of wine within the different. His work ‘Anazasi’ depicting a hovering eagle is displayed at Sedona’s City Hall advanced.

Recently, Soderberg has shared his well being struggles on his Facebook web page, together with a number of surgical procedures over the previous yr and a half, however nothing has stopped him from persevering with along with his work.

Back in his studio, a bit slimmer for put on, he has a number of works in progress. Two of the items he’s at the moment engaged on embrace a larger-than-life bust of Zeus and a 9-foot Pegasus.

“The Zeus is a private commission piece,” Soderberg mentioned. “The Pegasus is something I’ve always wanted to do so I just started working on it. But the first casting is already commissioned and will be going to Florida.”

In addition to his ardour for his artwork, John additionally has a urgent need to assist make the world a greater place. He grew to become concerned with Rancho Feliz shortly after its founding by brothers Gil and Troy Gillenwater of Scottsdale. Nearly 40 years in the past, Soderberg travelled to the border city of Aqua Prieta, Mexico with a gaggle of associates on bikes and raised over 200 thousand {dollars} to help the folks in that neighborhood. He has continued to work with the group which gives companies to the poverty stricken residents of the world together with housing, meals safety, schooling and scholarships. John personally sponsors a baby and pays the prices of her schooling.

“About 10 years or so ago, a group of us went down in the middle of winter to provide food to people in the area,” John mentioned. “We ended up feeding over 50,000 people in one day. It was cold, but people waiting in line for hours. Now we’ve built orphanages, school rooms, a commercial kitchen, dormitories and a literacy center there. We provide scholarships to the kids. We are helping to break the cycle of poverty.”

Just earlier than her demise, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg labored with the Dwight D. Opperman Foundation to create the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Woman of Leadership Award. She was conscious that her time is likely to be working quick and he or she wished to determine her legacy. In early 2020, the primary RBG Award was given to Agnes Gund, famend philanthropist and champion of justice reform. In 2021, the award was granted to Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, and this yr’s award went to Diane von Furstenberg, designer, writer and philanthropist.

Each recipient is awarded a bronze medallion with the likeness of the second lady to function a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The medallion was designed by none apart from Sedona’s very personal John Soderberg – fairly the legacy for John as nicely.

Cindy Cole is a freelancer for The Verde Independent. Reach her at

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