with the Spratt Jetan set on display at the
Memorial ERB Collection
at the University of Louisville ~ Rare Books
James Spratt shares the following biographical sketch.
A version of this bio first appeared in the Burroughs Bulletin
No. 30, Spring 1977.
James Killian Spratt, sculptor, was born in Frankfurt, Germany
on April 4, 1950 to former Army Lieutenant Frank K. Spratt and Florence
Spratt, British civilian assistant to SHEAF, and one of the first two women
to enter burning Germany at the end of WWII. In 1952, the family moved
to Hendersonville, North Carolina, where he now resides. For Spratt's third
birthday he received a box of kleen-klay plastalene, and immediately put
all the creatures pictured on the box into full form, learning to sculpt
while learning to talk. This began the makings of a truly weird kid, and
naturally intuitive artist.
Al through childhood, Spratt kept and added to his collection of plastalene,
stashing it in paper bags under his bed at night and, during the days,
making armies, warriors and horses, cars, animals, you name it, exploring
his world via clay . . . those colored wads which could be anything
he wanted and, lager, became the keys to many doors.
Sometime around 1958 Frank Spratt's used furniture business turned into
Spratt's Book Exchange, one of the first paperback swap-shops, which topped
out at approximately 150,000 volumes. So Spratt had plenty to read,
all for free. In the early 1960s, Ace came out with the ERB paperbacks,
with Krenkel and Frazetta covers. Well . . . monkey see, monkey do, and
out came the modeling clay. Wow! Hot stuff! Artistic challenge! Spratt
managed to pull off a few pretty good Sci-Fi pieces, but a few other things
In 1970, lackadaisical college boy Spratt lost his student deferment
and was cordially invited into the armed forces of Uncle Sam. Four years
later he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy, having barely made
E-5, and having barely avoided being killed in Vietnam. He had learned
Korean, while working for the U.N. for two and a half years, during which
he married. He came back with his new wife to North Carolina where son
Aaron was born in 1974, and went back to school at the University of North
Carolina, having learned that one gets better pay with an education.
Despite being extremely difficult to teach, Spratt graduated from UNC
in 1978 with a B.A. in art, Summa How Come, and began full-time
in his open-to-the-public sculpture studio, usually just getting by, and
teaching himself the finer points of merchandising, subject selection and
treatment, molding and casting.
In 1982 the studio burned, destroying about 400 finished wax models,
some of which had taken months to sculpt. The fire prompted a move to Atlanta,
200 miles away. . . a boom town, major metropolis, which almost immediately
led to the development of a series of bronze wildlife figures, numerous
portrait heads, several large monuments, including from-life portraits
of actor Charlton Heston, Senator Herman Talmadge (for the capital in Atlanta),
two large eagles for ROCK-TENN Corporation, and others too numerous to
mention. Major successes, making money, getting known.
In 1992, Spratt left Atlanta in a fit of disgust at the crassness of
commercialism, and . . . having accomplished all his artistic missions,
he returned to his home in North Carolina to rethink his directions.
Not much thought was required to reawaken the interest of this now seasoned
artist to the greatest arena of thought now known . . . science fiction.
For an artist of almost any kind, this is the biggest and most fruitful
avenue, as man stands on the launch-pad. After Rodin ("Who are we? Where
did we come from? Where are we going? ") Edgar Rice Burroughs is an archetype
of almost all the Sci-Fi written, and his layers of meaning have not begun
to have been revealed in totality. (Have you ever played Jetan?)
By now, Spratt was technically a master of his craft, tried and proven.
The greater challenge of what to sculpt remained. An answer lay in the
father of American science fiction, Edgar Rice Burroughs. What has he given
us? Who are the characters he has created? Where is nobility and honor
among us today? ERB needs to be brought back to light, analyzed, argued,
explored, promulgated. . . not just Tarzan, but John Carter, Dejah
Thoris, Carson Napier, Duare, every last character in every last story.
Commercialism aside, this is important!
this point in his life, Spratt is again devoting almost full time to ERB.
His typical day consists of waking early, working until he drops, and sleeping
until he wakes again. . . often with new ideas dreamed up while asleep.
He began in 1995 with an 18-inch version of Dejah Thoris, which he
says is just a warm-up. . . she can be obtained in cast marble for about
$150, subject to some small modifications. After a hiatus during which
he lost his right eye, he's now back at it, hard, and has created a Jetan
set consisting of six-inch, detailed figures depicting two opposing teams
with different skin color, but identical trappings. The first sets he has
hand-made so far have been carefully and colorfully painted and, depending
on demand, he'll see if he can't offer the pieces as raw castings for others
to paint. . . to keep the price down. After all, there are forty
separate figures and a number of different princesses (to keep things interesting)
for serious play or just for love.