Caleb OConner in his studio

Island Life Propels, Nurtures O’Connor’s Free Spirit

The beauty and serenity of the Hawaiian Islands attract countless visitors each year who long for a little peace, relaxation and fun in the sun.

Caleb O'Connor in his Tuscaloosa art studio.
O’Connor is currently involved in producing several pieces celebrating the bicentennials of the city of Tuscaloosa and state of Alabama.

While many get only a few days to enjoy the tropical environment, Caleb O’Connor grew up in Maui and took full advantage of his surroundings as he developed a love for art at a young age.

“While my brothers would go out and surf, I would be on the beach sculpting various shapes and figures in the sand,” recalled O’Connor. “When I wasn’t on the beach, I was walking through nature and drawing the different animals and landscapes around me.”

O’Connor earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art, one of the oldest art schools in the nation. He continued to hone his interest in sculpture as a Fulbright Scholar in Italy, studying under Nicolas Bertrux and Cynthia Sah, the founders of the renowned Arkad Foundation.

O’Connor has worked independently throughout his career. His studio locations have spanned the country — Hawaii, the Arlington, Virginia area, Chicago and ultimately The University of Alabama campus. In 2013, Caleb and Ruth Jatib O’Connor opened an educational studio in downtown Tuscaloosa.

A hallmark of O’Connor’s artistry is to draw the viewer in the experience, creating an opportunity to add their personal story to the work of art and provoking questions about the interpretation of the piece.

“I don’t want to be overly specific with my art because that doesn’t allow the viewer to create an experience or develop their own story,” said O’Connor. “Take a cup for example. Everybody has a drink they like more and there are different cups developed specifically for various drinks, like a glass for water or mug for coffee. But that simple idea of a cup is viewed so differently by each individual’s mind. I love leaving that openness in my work.”

Some of O’Connor’s work in recent years has focused on capturing and sharing local history. The Tuscaloosa Federal Building and Courthouse is home to 16 murals by O’Connor depicting pivotal moments in the history of the city, state and nation. In 2017, his sculpture of World Boxing Council Heavyweight Boxing Champion and Tuscaloosa native Deontay Wilder was among 23 finalists in the International Portrait Competition.

O’Connor is currently involved in producing several pieces celebrating the bicentennials of the city of Tuscaloosa and state of Alabama. In Tuscaloosa, he designed and sculpted a depiction of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategy.

“The project celebrates the idea of following a path of wisdom and learning from our history in a way that we don’t relive it, but move through it and use those lessons to move in a direction that’s more appropriate for the future,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor’s sculpture of Minerva, which will stand 30 feet tall and weigh more than 9,500 pounds, will be unveiled at its new home at UA’s Manderson Landing on Dec. 13, the city’s 200th birthday, during a ceremony that will culminate Tuscaloosa’s yearlong bicentennial celebration.