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creative:impact - John Nick Pappas is a local legend of the third dimension

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Catherine Pappas
John Nick Pappas and his sculptures.

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

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David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


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Catherine Pappas
John Nick Pappas

John Nick Pappas has won numerous prizes and awards, including the prestigious Rome Prize Fellowship in Sculpture ( and the Wayne State University Arts Achievement Award.  He is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, the Riverside Arts Foundation, Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and former member of the State Commission for Art in Public Places.  He has exhibited his work in Europe and the United States, and has created many commissioned pieces for corporations, health care organizations, community groups and private individuals.  Ford Motor Company, Daimler Chrysler Corporation, Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, University of Michigan Medical Center, Wayne State University, Eastern Michigan University, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, among many others, have significant pieces of his work in their collections.

He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Art from Wayne State University in Detroit and was a Professor of Sculpture at Eastern Michigan University.


John Nick Pappas Official Site

John Nick Pappas: Meet the Artist

John Nick Pappas Collections

John Nick Pappas Exhibitions

"My Dad, John Nick Pappas, Sculptor" by Catherine Pappas

Catherine Pappas
"The Garden" is a 1997 sculpture by John Pappas that is located at the Dr. Dan Fall Memorial Garden at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and your host for creative:impact. Thanks for tuning in on Tuesdays to hear my conversations with creative guests rooted in Washtenaw County. Each week, we explore how their businesses, product, programs, and services impact and add to our local quality of life, place, and economy. I am very excited to introduce you to a local legend, a master of heavy metal--bronze medal, that is. John Nick Pappas is a master sculptor whose work is internationally known, and he has won numerous awards for his work. John, welcome and thank you for being here for here.

John Nick Pappas: Fine. I'm happy to be here.

Deb Polich: So, you've had a stellar career. I understand that you're a son of Greek immigrants who stopped in Detroit where you went to school.

John Nick Pappas: Yeah.

Deb Polich: Art and sculpting found you some time in your teen years, maybe just before college. How did you discover that you wanted to be a sculptor?

John Nick Pappas: I discovered it when I was nine years old.

Deb Polich: Oh, okay.

John Nick Pappas: What was a parent, my dad was a very special character. In fact, I ended up calling him the Man with the Golden Heart.

Deb Polich: Okay.

John Nick Pappas: Because he was a gifted, gentle, uneducated immigrant from Greece, and he fought in three wars. And the last four was World War One.

Deb Polich: Oh, my gosh.

John Nick Pappas: He was gassed and hit in shrapnel. And so, but he was my guide without even knowing it. He just had no clue about what sculpture was. He grew up in Greece on top of it.

Deb Polich: Plenty of sculpture there.

John Nick Pappas: And that was amazing. But he was a gracious, really good man. So, I've honored my life only after him in the sense of being very responsible, sustaining myself with an intensity that came from him.

Deb Polich: Okay.

John Nick Pappas: And I was amazed with my existence because I started doing sculpture by accident--it was not by accident, by intention. But I didn't know it. I was doing clay pieces in the basement of a house that we had just bought.

Deb Polich: Mm hmm.

John Nick Pappas: And I was in a wonderful area, which was close to the University of Detroit. And so, I had this kind of fantastic material place where I could do all kinds of things and a basement in this new house, which was enormous. And I started playing with clay from what was around the corner and next to my favorite place, Sanders.

Deb Polich: Oh, yes. I recall it well.

John Nick Pappas: On Sundays all the time. But Homus Hardware decided to sell clay. So, I went in and I knew the guys, and I said, "What's that clay material you got?" So, we bought it from the ceramic shop. He said, "You want one?" I said, "Okay." So, I took it home, and I immediately started modeling hands, feet, figures without even thinking about it.

Deb Polich: So, that innate talent was there, and you were working with a material that was rather new to you.

John Nick Pappas: But it was amazing to me because, before I knew it, I had, you know, ten, 15 pieces.

Deb Polich: Goodness. So, sculpting--and, you know, I used to think that an artist was born with their ability to create anything in any media, which, of course, is not true. You have to learn, you have to apprentice, you have to practice. You have to do it over and over again. Sculpting, especially with metal, is very complicated.

John Nick Pappas: That wasn't hard too much.

Deb Polich: No.

Catherine Pappas
John Nick Pappas in his studio.

John Nick Pappas: Much later. That's, at fact. I was teaching here.

Deb Polich: Before you started to sculpt?

John Nick Pappas: No, only when I started to really practice.

Deb Polich: Okay, teaching here, meaning Eastern Michigan University.

John Nick Pappas: Yeah.

Deb Polich: Okay.

John Nick Pappas: I went to Wayne State University. I'm what they call one of the city kids because, you know, I was born in Detroit. I love Detroit. I loved everything about Wayne State University. It was just an experience of my life that from then on was a total absorption in this. So, you know, I'm nine, ten years old, and I'm making sculpture and I'm "Why am I doing it? I have no idea."

Deb Polich: Because you can.

John Nick Pappas: Well, yeah. And I think that was probably actually the right choice in words.

Deb Polich: So, you move into metal sculpting and, you know, that's so complicated, so many steps along the way. And then, not only are you working with molten hot, you know, oozing bronze, but it's heavy as heck.

Catherine Pappas
John Pappas' workshop in the Old City Hall building on Cross Street where his art work is created.

John Nick Pappas: While we were pouring bronze here, only because at Wayne, I studied with Giall Smith.

Deb Polich: Okay.

John Nick Pappas: Who always managed to teach us in roundabout ways, but very talented man and not a great communicator, at least with me. And I think that was for other reasons. He admired my ability. I could pop off and do portraits like nothing. It just kept happening.

Deb Polich: So, the visual arts were there for you too

John Nick Pappas: That's right. And what was interesting was that. And, for me, my sister had a friend named Pat Quinlan, who came to the house and asked my sister, "Who did all these clays?" And she says, "My brother over there." And it turns out that Pat was teaching at Wayne. So, she said, "You should do something about him because he's very talented." She was looking at my work.

Deb Polich: Okay.

John Nick Pappas: And she went on to be a teacher at Wayne State. And all of a sudden, I go to Wayne State, and she's there teaching.

Deb Polich: Oh, that's great.

John Nick Pappas: And she said she was so happy to see me, and that was it.

Deb Polich: 89 one WEMU's creative:impact continues. I'm your host, Deb Polich, and my guest is master sculptor John Nick Pappas. So, John, you have a number of commissions that right here at Eastern, "The Icarus" in front of the theater. You're at U of M, at Saint Joe's Hospital, at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building in Detroit, and many other places. Commissioned work often is public work, and public work--public art--creates conversation about the art. Some people love it immediately. Others have other responses to it. As a sculptor, do you pay attention to the critics, both good and bad?

Catherine Pappas
The bronze statue "Icarus" by John Pappas is located on the Eastern Michigan University campus in front of the Quirk Building. It was dedicated in the Fall of 2003.

John Nick Pappas: Very little.

Deb Polich: Okay.

John Nick Pappas: I have a tendency to be very control-oriented to myself, and the rest of the world has to adjust to me.

Deb Polich: And there you go. I like that.

John Nick Pappas: Well, no, it's interesting, because I love doing what I did, and I was lucky. I became an expert founder. My two sons do all my casting. Now, I did it all in the beginning.

Deb Polich: Okay.

John Nick Pappas: And I did a big piece of Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is seven tons—

Deb Polich: Seven tons! That's enormous!

Catherine Pappas
The John Pappas 1978 sculpture at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Headquarters in Detroit, Michigan.

John Nick Pappas: At my studio in Depot Town.

Deb Polich: Okay.

John Nick Pappas: Which is a pretty large piece. And we move the piece by helicopter out of the building and in the back to three flatbeds.

Deb Polich: Oh my gosh.

John Nick Pappas: Because the area was too far away from the street, we had to build it out of sight to put it together.

Deb Polich: Like I said, so many steps to the whole process.

John Nick Pappas: It was a nightmare.

Deb Polich: So, I have to thank your daughter, Cathy, who helped prepare me for our conversation. And she sent us a lot of materials, including a bunch of images. And one of them caught my eye. And it was you and your wife with the Queen of England--with Queen Elizabeth, the Second. You were at an exhibition, I believe, in Chelsea?

Catherine Pappas
Pappas was invited to exhibit in the international sculpture exhibition in Chelsea Harbour, England and was one of a handful of sculptors who were selected to meet the Queen of England.

John Nick Pappas: We were invited. A friend of mine who came here, John Mills, an English sculptor--

Deb Polich: Okay.

John Nick Pappas: Came here and set up a thing for sculptors around the world that included me to show in the show. And that photograph is her coming to meet us.

Deb Polich: Did she, by chance, remark at all about the sculptures?

John Nick Pappas: Oh, yeah, she's very bright.

Deb Polich: Yeah.

John Nick Pappas: And that was an amazing experience because here I was with John Mills, a friend of mine, who came here to teach, and I had teach a class. And we're very good friends.

Deb Polich: So, we have one minute left. So, I got to wrap up. There's so much time that I want to talk. But one last question about legacy. As you look back at the two decades that you've been producing and then look forward, what do you want people to remember you about?

Catherine Pappas
This 1994 bronze sculpture of "Hippocrates" by John Nick Pappas is displayed on the University of Michigan Medical School Campus.

John Nick Pappas: I think if they just remember to buy the sculpture, that'd be fine.

Deb Polich: Well, I'm sure that they absolutely will. Thank you so much for the honor of having you on creative:impact.

John Nick Pappas: Fun to be here.

Deb Polich: We really appreciate it. That's master sculptor John Nick Pappas. Find out more about John and where to find his sculptures locally at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your creative:impact host. Mat Hopson is our producer. Join us every Tuesday for conversations with creative Washtenaw guests. Celebrating 45 years of jazz broadcasting, this is 89 one WEMU Ypsilanti. Public Radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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