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Noted sculptor dies as statue is dedicated

One of Spratt's creations, a memorial at Fire Station No. 1 to fallen firefighters, features a likeness of Charlie King. One of Spratt's creations, a memorial at Fire Station No. 1 to fallen firefighters, features a likeness of Charlie King.

James Killian Spratt, the Hendersonville sculptor whose work included the recently completed bronze statue honoring Korean War Medal of Honor winner Charles George, died on Saturday — minutes into the dedication of his life-sized sculpture of the war hero at the V.A. Medical Center that bears his name. He was 66.


Spratt, a native of Henderson County and a U.S. Navy veteran, had been suffering from cancer for seven years. 

Spratt died "seven minutes into the unveiling of (the memorial to) PFC Charles George," said his brother, David G. Spratt. "He hung on till the ceremony started and he had a speaking part that he relinquished only five hours before because of his weakened condition."

The cancer treatment that he received at the Asheville V.A. hospital inspired Spratt to volunteer to sculpt the life-size image of George, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1954 for conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty during the Korean War.

“He said, ‘I need to give you something back,’ and he did,” said Kenneth Youngblood, a Hendersonville attorney and longtime friend of Spratt’s and admirer of his art. “He was strongly determined to get that done” even as he was weakened by cancer.
Spratt’s sculpture was used to make identical bronze statues of George — one at the V.A. hospital and the other on the Cherokee reservation.
WLOS-TV honored Spratt as the Person of the Week in April for his generosity in making the sculpture.
"Well you know, when things get really tough for me, I just think about him," Spratt told the TV reporter. "Twenty years old. His life hadn't gotten started."

It fell to Warren Dupree, a leader of the Charles George Memorial Project Committee, to announce the artist's death.

“James Spratt has just passed way," he told the gathering. "He hung on and fought his cancer until this day was almost done.”

Spratt told V.A. officials in June 2015 that he wanted to make the Charles George sculpture.

“This facility extended his life for seven years,”  Dupree said. “They were kind to him, they treated him with gentleness and all the good things for someone who was terminally ill and a veteran of the United States Navy. He wanted to give back.”

After meeting with the Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of the Cherokees in July 2015, Spratt began work on the project. With only three surviving photographs of George as his guide, Spratt formed the war hero’s likeness in clay.

“From the very beginning we were working against time,” Dupree said. “James knew he would not make it through to the end.”

After Spratt completed the clay model in June of this year, committee volunteers transported it to the Jack Ward foundry in Canton, Ga. The foundry, owned by Spratt’s longtime friend and fellow sculptor, cast two statues — one for the V.A. hospital and one for the Cherokee reservation, which will be dedicated on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

“He wanted to thank the namesake of this true hero for the wonderful treatment he had received while he was here — the kindness, the care he received while here,” Dupree said. “He wanted to thank the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to help make his dream come true. He wanted to thank the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Charles George Memorial Project Committee for their kindness in helping him make his dream come true. He wanted to give back, and this was his way of paying back to the veterans of the United States Armed Forces and the staff and members of this facility.”

Spratt was born in Frankfurt, Germany, on April 4, 1960, to Frank Killian Spratt Jr., an Army lieutenant, and Florence Hill Spratt, a Scottish-born woman who was one of the first to Germany after World War II. The family moved to Hendersonville in 1952. 

"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," according to a biographical sketch on an art auction website. "This began the makings of a truly weird kid, and naturally intuitive artist."

After graduating from West Henderson High School, he enrolled in UNC Asheville. In 1970, he dropped out of college and lost his student deferment. He joined the U.S. Navy. He learned Korean while working for the U.N. for two and a half years and he married a Korean girl, Kyong Lee. A son, Aaron, was born in 1974. Honorably discharged from the Navy, Spratt came home to North Carolina with his new wife and son. After earning a bachelor's degree in art from UNC in 1978, he opened a studio in Hendersonville and continued his mostly self-taught career.

His starving artist days turned brighter. In his 20s he sculpted a horse head piece called "Flaming Mane" in just two hours in the middle of the night at a time when he was worried about raising his young family. When the Flaming Mare was mass-produced, people bought hundreds of thousands of copies, prompting him years later to cherish the work as his "gold record." In the 1970s Austin Productions of Holbrook, N.Y., one of the largest producers in the world of small art objects, appointed Spratt as sculptor in residence, commissioning him to create original figurines and statuettes for mass production. 

A fire at his studio in 1982 prompted a move to Atlanta, where he began to receive bigger commissions and earned renown for a series of bronze wildlife figures, numerous portrait heads and several large monuments, including portraits of actor Charlton Heston and for former Gov. Herman Eugene Talmadge in Georgia Park Plaza. Ten years later the artist returned home to Hendersonville and continued working.

“He brought us into the bronze age,” Youngblood quipped. Spratt designed the bronze busts of historic Henderson County figures in the county library.

A piece he made in 2000, called "Dousing the Devil," is on display at Hendersonville's Fire Station No. 1 as a memorial to firefighters who perished in the line of duty. It includes images of longtime city fire chief Charlie King and T. Lee Osborne, a city council member who was fire commissioner. His bronze busts of historic Henderson County figures are on display at the Henderson County public library.

Spratt worked up until his death. 

"He finished his last piece 'Wade,' a Pony Express rider galloping on a steed with his gun drawn, on September 23rd," his brother said.

Spratt leaves behind his fiancée, Carol Nail, with whom he lived in Hendersonville for six years, brother David Garlington Spratt and his wife Genetta in High Point, sister Kathleen Spratt Kraus and her husband Kenneth of Hendersonville, a son, Aaron Killian Spratt and his wife Jacey in Bethesda, Md., Carol's sons Jeffrey and Thomas, as well as five grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

The family will hold a private service for family members will take place at Yellow Hill Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Cherokee. Friends and family are invited to celebrate his life at Lake Julian Park, shelter #1, in Arden, at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8.

Information from Invaluable.com, LocallyCrafted.com and Asheville Mortuary Services was used in this report. An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported the day of Mr. Spratt's death as Friday instead of Saturday.