with the Spratt Jetan set on
display at the
Memorial ERB Collection
at the University of Louisville
~ Rare Books Library
James Spratt shares the following biographical
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
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.