William Makepeace knew it was time for a change. He was in his forties, getting a divorce, and after years in the financial industry, he wanted to work with his hands. So the ex-Marine and father of two decided to become a sculptor.
“I hit the reset button,” the 50-year-old Buckhead artist said one recent afternoon, sitting in his sculpture studio and surrounded by things he’d made since his change of direction in 2015. “I 100 percent hit the reset button.”
He believed he could handle his new direction. He felt it was in his DNA. For generations, he said, members of his family had made things: food, shelter, clothing.
His great-great grandfather, great-grandfather and grandfather ran millwork companies in North Carolina. When his ancestor George Makepeace moved his branch of the family south in the 1830s, he came because he knew how to run a textile plant. “He was,” Makepeace said, “the Yankee with the textile know-how.”
“I’ve always been a creative person,” Makepeace said. “Not necessarily making art, but just in everyday life, I’ve able to connect the dots. I pay attention to what’s going on around me and within me. I connect those feelings … through art.”
One of the first pieces of sculpture Makepeace made was a wooden paddle. It now hangs on a wall of his studio at the ACA Sculpture Studio of SCAD, located in Midtown next to the High Museum.
The paddle doesn’t really look like other pieces he’s made. Several are fabricated from metal or use everyday objects, such as Coke bottles, to make their points.
But the paddle is personal. It comes with its own backstory. Makepeace made it in memory of a wooden paddle his father had ordered him to make at the family’s millwork business when he was about 7. The young boy had gotten in trouble during a family gathering. Once he finished the paddle, his dad used it to spank him. Makepeace titled his recent piece “direction.” But it has a second meaning, he said. “People say, ‘You’re up the creek without a paddle.’ I have a paddle,” he said. “It’s right there.”
He joined the Marines when he was in college. He hadn’t intended to, he said. A roommate called a recruiting hotline “and volunteered me as a joke.” When a recruiter called, “we told him it was a joke, but he kept calling me.” Eventually, Makepeace signed up. “I have always been somewhat spontaneous and the more it was explained to me, the more it sounded like a good idea,” he said. “So, I just went for it.”
It stuck. He served 24-and-a-half years, most of it in the reserves. He spent six years on active duty in posts scattered from Iraq to Bolivia to Europe. Many of those years, his regular job was working as a financial advisor. About a year ago, he needed a change and decided to try his hand at art. He signed up for classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design and is working on a master of fine arts degree in sculpture.
A few months ago, he thought up a way to combine his background in business and the military with his new interest in making art. Starting this month, he plans to open a temporary gallery at American Legion Post 140, located at Chastain Park. He’s calling it an “art party.”
He’s been a member of the post for 13 years, he said, and thought it seemed like a good place for Buckhead art fans to see new works by local artists. He’s invited other students from SCAD and from Kennesaw State to show their works at the legion house.
The gallery will be open on 10 consecutive Wednesdays, starting Jan. 15 and ending March 18. Anyone who wants to show and sell their works is invited to join via his website at makeartlovepeace.com. They’re being asked to donate 10 percent of their sales to the legion post. “It is open to any artist,” he said. “It’s an open studio.”
What draws an ex-Marine to making art? “To me, it’s first and foremost for pleasure,” he said. “I enjoy doing this. I enjoy the process. I enjoy making art. It’s process-driven.”
Besides, he comes from a long line of people who make things. He’s settling back into what he sees as an update on a family tradition.
“I just see my art as a collection of my life experiences, the different buckets you can draw from,” he said. “Anything I’ve ever done in my life, somehow, in some way, comes through in the art.”
Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.