His talent is recognized throughout Fort Worth and beyond — bronze classics ranging from portraits to monuments and memorials — to the sleeping panther in downtown Fort Worth. Deran Wright’s latest work, “Aurora, Goddess of the Dawn” –– a 4-foot bronze sculpture of a female nude raising her arms to the sky – will make her debut at the 16th annual Preservation Is the Art of the City exhibit on Thursday at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. This is the first time sculpture has been accepted, and Deran is one of three sculptors who were invited to submit. The other two, Douglas Clark and Julie Lazarus, will be exhibiting animal life and glass pieces, respectively.
While Wright has participated in 10 of the exhibits, it has never been for sculpture. Instead he has offered pen and ink drawings. Inviting him to submit sculpture was an easy choice for Jerre Tracy, executive director of Historic Fort Worth, the nonprofit that puts on the exhibit every year.
Wright, she said, “may be quiet and soft-spoken, but his pen and ink drawings and his sculptures scream of artistic intelligence. His draftsmanship and versatility bring buildings, myths, horned frogs, firefighters, and any subject matter he chooses to life. He can make bronze look like gossamer, which qualified his sculpture for this year’s show.”
With deep Fort Worth roots, Wright attended Birdville High School and is a fifth-generation Texan. His great-great grandfather served as a captain in the Texas Rangers, and his grandparents were employees of Justin Boots back in their day.
Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of casting his first bronze sculpture at age 18, and during these past four decades, he has cast hundreds more. His mother recognized his talent when he began drawing recognizable faces as a toddler.
“When he was about 4 or 5, we would go to family gatherings where he enjoyed the company of numerous cousins,” said mother Annelee Wright. “They would be playing ball or tag, but when we arrived and Deran got out his sketchbook, active play would stop, and they would gather around on the front porch and watch him bring life to his pencil and pad.”
Throughout his school years, he was the go-to artist for comics and portraits for his classmates and drawings for the class yearbooks. While still a young teenager, he became a commercial illustrator, creating artwork for Texas magazines and newspapers. He even received a letter from Stan Lee telling him to hurry growing up, so he could apply for a position at Marvel Comics.
One of Wright’s pieces was unveiled at the White House in 1989 and another at the Cooper Aerobics Clinic in Dallas when George W. Bush was the keynote speaker. His clients have included the Boy Scouts of America, National Association of Police Officers, Texaco, and the United States Navy as well as TCU and the Texas A&M law school (formerly Texas Wesleyan). He once did work on an original Renoir sculpture, and 30 years later he became a key witness in a lawsuit between the Renoir heirs and the French government.
Even with all the awards and accolades, his favorite work is still the “Sleeping Panther” of Fort Worth reclining in its eternal nap at the intersection of Weatherford and Main streets downtown.
“It’s been 16 years since I created the ‘Sleeping Panther,’ and now panthers are everywhere,” he said. “They have exploded in popularity. There is a whole story behind this panther, perhaps to be told another time.”
Wright was recently commissioned to create coloring books by two different clients — TCU’s Center for Texas Studies and pen and ink drawings of Fort Worth structures for Historic Fort Worth. Additionally, he is completing three sculpture commissions, a book of ink drawings, an illustrated poem, three works of fiction, and a massive stained-glass collaboration with Don Young Glass Studio. He’s also working on writing his autobiography.
If asked to speak about his work at an unveiling, Wright is more likely to say, “Thank you, I enjoyed working on this” than rambling through a long speech.
“My kids, now 17 and 23, sometimes ask me for advice on what they should do for their careers,” Wright said. “I have no guidance for them, as I always knew exactly what I wanted to do.”