Jesse Nusbaum Sculpts His Own Path

The University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball trophy rooms are filled with awards. National champions amass plenty of hardware.

But the most intriguing items may be a pair of Husky heads. The eye-catching sculptures are the work of Jesse Nusbaum.

The Weston native presented them to UConn coaches Geno Auriemma and Kevin Ollie recently, in honor of the Huskies’ twin national championships in 2014.

University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, with Jesse Nusbaum and his Husky sculpture.

University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, with Jesse Nusbaum and his Husky sculpture.

The sculptures are worth quite a bit. One day — perhaps soon — when Nusbaum becomes nationally known, they’ll be worth even more.

The 25-year-old is already gaining a reputation. A little over a year into his career, he earned an invitation to last month’s prestigious Art Basel Miami show. He’s on the fast track — though his favored artistic medium requires patience and time.

Growing up, Nusbaum says he was “a jock.” A black belt by age 7, and youth soccer and basketball player, he was an All-State baseball player at Weston High. Except for an injury, he might have done the same in wrestling.

But he also worked with rock, soapstone, metal and pewter in the school’s art classes. “It felt so natural to me,” he says.

Horse, by Jesse Nusbaum.

Horse, by Jesse Nusbaum.

Nusbaum’s father is a noted lawyer, and Jesse grew up with the expectation of law school. He graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2013 not with the political science degree he had started, but as a studio art major.

After studying a year for the LSAT, he entered Charleston School of Law. “The dean loved that art degree,” Nusbaum says proudly. “He thought it was great I was using my brain in a different way. He saw me as very creative.”

It did not take long, though, for Nusbaum to realize a legal career was not for him. “I had no passion for it,” he says. “My mentors from Muhlenberg knew I was miserable. ‘You have a gift for art,’ they said. ‘Don’t waste it.'”

Without telling his parents — “it would crush them,” Nusbaum says — he requested a leave of absence. The dean supported him. “Follow your heart,” he told the aspiring artist.

Nusbaum went to work in his Weston studio. His specialty is animals. His style is hyper-realism. Each piece is intricately, intensely detailed — sometimes including actual animal parts, like bull horns and teeth.

Jesse Nusbaum at work in his Weston studio.

Jesse Nusbaum at work in his Weston studio.

“Although my hands are the tools to make a sculpture, 90 percent of the work comes from  my mind,” Nusbaum explains. “I constantly change the shape as the work progresses.”

Bronze gives his work an ageless, timeless, weathered finish — rugged, polished and clean.

It takes Nusbaum 2 to 3 months to sculpt one piece. The finishing process takes another 2 to 4 months.

Bull, by Jesse Nusbaum.

Bull, by Jesse Nusbaum.

But the results are worth it. Nusbaum was particularly proud to present the Husky heads to the UConn coaches. After Auriemma asked a lot of questions about how Nusbaum worked, the young sculptor realized there could be a market for animal heads for many more sports teams. “Just think of all the Yale alums…” he says, envisioning a vast bulldog market.

The sculptor works on marketing too. Instagram is key. In just a few months, he’s amassed 75,000 followers.

The Art Basel invitation capped off a fantastic year. Nusbaum attracted plenty of notice at last month’s prestigious show.

Jesse Nusbaum with 2 of his sculptures at Art Basel Miami last month.

Jesse Nusbaum with 2 of his sculptures at Art Basel Miami last month.

As much as Nusbaum loves his current life, he does not regret his brief stint at law school.

“If I hadn’t gone, I always would have wondered ‘what if…’,” he says. “Now I’ve got perspective on both sides: law and art.”

Over the past year, he adds, “I’ve met so many great people in the art world. They’re selfless and happy. You don’t always see that around here.”

He’s picking up new fans — and patrons — every day.

Mersene — whose Indulge by Mersene shop on Railroad Place specialize in unique, funky and very cool items — saw some of his small rhino sculptures. She offered him a showing in her store. A  great mix of people showed up just before Christmas.

Alligator, by Jesse Nusbaum.

Alligator, by Jesse Nusbaum.

In the months to come Nusbaum will seek out art shows and galleries, to show his work here and in places like Manhattan and Brooklyn.

And he’ll keep sculpting — patiently, realistically, and very, very happily.

PS: Last spring, Nusbaum told the Charleston law school dean to forget that leave of absence. He won’t be returning.

(For more information, including samples of Nusbaum’s work, click on www.jessenusbaum.com)

4 responses to “Jesse Nusbaum Sculpts His Own Path

  1. This is just my opinion, of course, but there is a lot of value to a story like this….especially in places throughout the country like wealthy Fairfield County. I don’t know what brought this story to Dan’s attention— you know the family maybe or somebody merely dropped you a note about it maybe– but it is a great story for families everywhere to appreciate.
    Let me first say that I don’t know the family in the article, so I don’t know
    the family dynamics at play in this situation, but is it possible that the son was headed off to law school partly (or merely ) because of the fact that the father was a lawyer ? The article does refer to the son growing up with the “expectation of law school “……”whose” expectation is the key ?
    My point simply is that often young adults are led down a path in which they are told they must entertain a particular college because their mom or dad went there, rather than if the student really has an interest in even considering the school. I think the same is true about possible career paths.
    What Dad or Mom may do for a job is one thing but is it really the path that the student wishes to follow ? Again, I don’t know about this particular situation at all—- but I think the outcome is awesome. Law school wasn’t for him and my hunch is that he knew it all along.
    We all need to let our children follow their potential dreams and interests rather than steering them.
    In this particular story, the son is incredibly talented and that is a god-given talent he has working with his hands and sculpting. Were there some unhappy parental moments on his decision ? I can imagine so, but the parents in this case I hope and imagine are very supportive of the decision that the son made for himself.

  2. Great article, pictures and comment by T.Mitchell.
    Jeff is an amazing artist and craftsman.
    To Jeff: Please, continue to follow your instincts and dreams
    May your artistry and talents expanded as you mature.
    I wish you success and contentment in life.

  3. Flavien Freedman

    Thanks for sharing this Dan. As a fellow Muhlenberg Alumnus, it’s great to hear what fellow Mules are up to these days.
    Would love to pass this on to them if it hasn’t been already.