Artist George Gadson began his career aspirations with the thought of becoming a Baptist minister, hoping to change lives in a positive way. After graduating from Duke University with a bachelor’s degree in Theology, his path remained as unclear as the paint palette of his life: full of hope and with many colors.

“When I graduated, I was still curious about my identity,” said Gadson. “I didn’t go into the ministry after I finished college because I felt I required more discovery for myself. I was trying to find ‘me’.”

Today, Gadson is the owner of George Gadson Studios, specializing in sculptures, abstracts, photography painting, consulting, and workshops. He found that even a circuitous route to finding who you are can lead to a fulfilling career. A career that tells a story, impacts people and communities, and honors rich and vibrant cultures.

Gadson’s works can be found in many places around the South Florida area where he is based. But his work is also found in other parts of the country, including historically black universities and communities, African American research libraries, and professional football folklore with Signature Awards. His passion for what he does and what it means permeates both his artwork and in the way he tells his story.

According to Gadson, a passion for positive impact guides how he operates in every aspect of his life.

As a small business owner and former banker himself, Gadson’s appreciation for PNC’s dedication towards its communities’ success has kept him as a client for more than a decade. They have a goal in common.

Gadson shared the complex path he took towards becoming an artist and small business owner; how he gave his expertise and advice for other artists, and elaborated on how important his life’s work is to both him and those around him.

Can you tell us how you became an artist and small business owner?

After I graduated from Duke, I started to study in Spain in the Spring of 1974. I remember sitting in my bed, about to graduate again, still having no clue as to who I was and what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

I had spent some time working at a bank in Florida in the summers between semesters, so I decided to pursue that. I got a job in the management training program, and back then, I was the only person of color in that management group. All eyes were on me. It was very stressful and felt like a fish in a bowl.

I decided to take up a hobby to deal with the stress in a healthy way and started taking art classes on the weekends. I fell in love with it. I started setting up booths at art festivals, dabbling with paper mâché, and continued that hobby as I advanced my banking career. After starting a mortgage business – then later deciding that wasn’t for me – I decided to relocate to South Florida from Central Florida and get involved with a local chamber of commerce and economic development organization.

Professional football’s biggest game came to South Florida in 1995, and those organizations and the host committee were looking to give a gift to the NFL owners. I presented my idea for a sculpture called, “The Kicker.” The host committee members loved the idea, as a sculpture wasn’t even on their radar as a possibility. That became my very first sculpture and my first break into the artworld professionally. It was a bronze, limited edition piece.

How did that breakthrough translate into this extremely successful career specifically?

A few years after that 1995 championship game, the South Florida area hosted that game again in 1999. So, I created another sculpture called, “The Quarterback.” It was another bronze, limited edition that was given to the NFL owners.

I look back now at those two special artworks and think, “Wow, I gave birth to that?” It is an amazing feeling. During this time with these economic- and business-focused organizations, I networked as much as I could. As a result, new people began reaching out to ask about sculptures I could do for them.

I started creating site-specific, artworks for universities and corporations. Then I started doing more work for local communities. In 2002, I created a 12 ft. sculpture for the African American Research Library and Cultural Center (AARLC), for its grand opening. This library was one of five libraries of its kind at the time. That’s when I started engaging with a lot of community-related public artwork, which is a good part of my business.

What does your creative process entail when you take on these important community projects that aim to beautify and educate?

Each work is different, so the inspiration is different. When I meet with my client, I get a sense of what they want the work to communicate. Then I take it from there and do research and determine: What was the site’s use in the past? What will be the site’s use in the future?

The artwork has to have historical connection and honor the present and future. Doing research is important because work that’s in a public space needs to have a sense of place. I did a sculpture of a woman in an evening gown for Florida Memorial University, a historically-black college. Accomplished Music Writers James Weldon Johnson and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, wrote the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in 1900, and Florida Memorial Glee Club sang it for the very first time at FMU, which was in the Florida Panhandle at the time.

Today it is commonly referred to as the “Black National Anthem.” That sculpture includes the first notes from that song on the front of her gown and today, that artwork can be found at the FMU Lou Rawle’s Performing Arts Center in Miami. For the AARLC, the director told me that he saw the building being a bridge that connects economics, culture, education, technology, and geography. If you look at the sculpture, “The Bridge” its sides represent the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, which has significant meaning around the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

You’ve done so much for so many communities and have had such a successful career. What advice can you give to other artists looking to make a name for themselves in their community?

I’m a firm believer in networking. I tell artists and non-artists that you grow your business through networking. On the artist side, I also tell people to surround yourself with people with not only enjoy art but also purchase and are knowledgeable about art. Those are the people who are more inclined to support your work.

Sit on a different number of boards that are non-art related and rub elbows with influential people in your community. In terms of capital to start your business, as a former banker, you want to have a banker that personally knows you. It’s so hard to get funding as startup because no one knows the ebbs and flows of your business.

So, when you need financing, your banker will know who you are and of what your business is capable. That’s why I’m thankful to be a client at PNC, because my experience has been that clients aren’t just an account number to them.

Your work has impacted so many communities and people. What does that mean to you and the work you’ve put into this career and business?

I said earlier that I didn’t know who I was when I graduated college. I know who I am now. I am man with a purpose and a gift that I didn’t know I had. I’m a person who doesn’t take what I do for granted, because my gift has helped me transform lives, by placing art in communities that speaks to that community and preserves its history.

I see my art as a ministry where I can touch lives and inspire people - Black, White or any race. We all have a gift, and we all have something to offer humanity. Once you find it, embrace it. You will live the best life because you’re changing lives and you’re fulfilled. In my case, if I don’t do my art, I’m not my complete self.