From an early age, Lawrence Reid Bechtel learned receptivity, a primary capacity for the artist, who receives and then transforms; absorbs and then re-makes. He grew up in Wheaton, home of Wheaton College, a quiet, cloistered community thirty miles due west of Chicago’s Loop where his father taught literature at Wheaton, and his mother was an elementary school librarian. Both were deeply religious.
Lawrence felt, like Mark Twain, that an artist needs richness of experience to work with, and so after graduating from Wheaton in 1971, he lived in Chicago for several years, traveled and backpacked through British Columbia, Alaska, and Vancouver Island, and pursued wooden boat building in Newport, Oregon.
Eventually, he settled with his wife in Southwest Virginia, where he earned an MA in English at Virginia Tech in 1985, became an English Instructor and much-loved storyteller at his son’s school, and set himself the task of establishing a comprehensive recycling program at the university, and salaried Recycling Coordinator position—and succeeded. Art, after all, can be practical.
Sculpture, and writing, then burst forth: Lawrence wrote his first novel, The Favorite, created a succession of sculptures, large and small, in both wood and clay, and began landing significant commissions, public and private.
He became particularly interested in the African-American experience, and from this flowed a series of inter-related sculptures, accompanied by much research—of Thomas Jefferson, of one of Jefferson’s slaves, of Frederick Douglass, of Captain Charles Schaeffer, who established a church and school for emancipated slaves in Montgomery County VA, and of Nannie B. Hairston, a local civil-rights activist, “our Rosa Parks.”
Invigorated by Barack Obama’s run for the presidency, and his marvelous speech in Grant Park after his election, Lawrence began work on a suitable sculptural portrait of President Obama. The process was long, and the sculpture kept changing as a result, just as Barack Obama himself changed and matured, through all his battles over the Stimulus program and Affordable Health Care Act, and the aftermath of the Iraq war.
Eventually, in “Keeping his eye on the ball,” Lawrence settled on conveying—through the mingled metaphors of basketball and the martial arts discipline of Quigong–that quality which Obama seems especially to possess, and to have assiduously honed to a fine degree: balance.