Redding sculptor John BonSignore is a skilled welder and artisan who creates soaring stainless-steel figures and formations that evoke graceful movement and shimmering flow. His latest commission from this aptly named Toe Dancer series is a piece called “The Mentor.” It was recently installed in Danbury after being commissioned by CityCenter Danbury, the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut, and BRT General Corporation.
BonSignore first found inspiration for his Toe Dancer work as a child when he attended his cousin’s ballet recitals and watched the dancers’ elegant moves. “She never referred to it as ballet; she would call it toe-dancing. The name stuck with me,” says BonSignore. “The work is about movement and motion and rhythm. It’s about taking any pose from a Celtic dancer, ballet, skating, and taking any split second of any pose and freezing it, and then capturing the internal structure of what the movement is through line.”
For each piece, BonSignore begins with a line drawing. He heats and bends stainless rounded stock to form the long limbs, fabricating the show of movement he wishes to acquire, while the heads are cast using his wax molds at a foundry. Then, he welds all the pieces together, finishing with a clean central joint that is his signature for each sculpture. He says in his artist’s statement, “Stainless steel is my medium of choice, for its infinite durability, which enhances a moment of movement and gesture in each pose; smooth, precise, with an elegant conclusion of continuous flow.” The Toe Dancer sculptures are impressive in stature; most are over eight feet tall and many reach more than ten feet.
Another of BonSignore’s sculptures, titled “Mori Dancer,” which means “forest dancer” in Japanese, was recently installed in downtown Concord, New Hampshire, after being commissioned by the Capitol Center for the Arts. His work has also been exhibited across the country and internationally, as well as commissioned for public art and private collections throughout the area.
Toe Dancer is one of BonSignore’s two lines of work. His other medium is stone, and he has created sculptures with carefully selected rocks that are piled, balanced, and juxtaposed on one another using an innovative structural technique he designed. “The individual stones are chosen for their shape, character, and for the way in which they contribute to the sculptural form as a whole. While these separate components are visible upon closer examination, distance presents the viewer with the image of a single, graceful, weightless whole,” writes BonSignore. He has created several styles with his stonework, including whimsical nudes, interior and exterior suspended sculptures, and wall art. Over the last couple years, he has started incorporating stones into his Toe Dancer pieces to combine his two métiers.
BonSignore grew up in Redding, and his family has been in town for several generations. He began creating and constructing as soon as he could, and his parents encouraged his interest in the arts. He was also motivated by his elders. “My grandmother, Helen, always showed me through her fine crafts that things had to be done correctly and to the best of one’s ability, or they would have to be done over. This set the tone for my work,” he says.
After high school, he attended the Shintaro Akatsu School of Design at the University of Bridgeport, earning a degree in Industrial Design. He left the area for graduate studies in ceramics and sculpture at Arizona State University, but Redding soon called him back.
“I lived out west for a while, in Arizona, and I realized I missed the seasons. I also realized that Redding was the most lush place I’d ever been, with all the trees and green. And with the town being eighty percent watershed, land is protected here,” says BonSignore. Once he returned, he attended the University of Bridgeport again, this time to earn a master’s degree in sculpture and education, and began building a house down the road from his family’s property in Redding.
He designed and constructed his home himself over several decades, using locally milled wood that casts warm tones throughout. He built his fireplace with stones from his father’s property as well as his own, which sits on the Saugatuck River. This intensive masonry work sparked his interest in stone sculpture. Now, his stone works and Toe Dancer pieces, including his first dancer, fill his property.
BonSignore has created more than four hundred sculptures throughout his prolific career. Each of his pieces tell a story, some of nature and balance, and others of grace and movement. His work is in great company in Redding among the other talented artists and contemplative thinkers, offering distinctive, striking masterpieces for our community to experience and admire.