By Barbara Ellis
Many artists’ life stories contain personal tragedy. Gil Sanchez’s is one of those. A superintendent on a construction site in March 2016, he fell through an unsecured opening in a fourth story roof (through a small room-size utility shaft) to the bottom floor. Remarkably, he was able to talk to emergency responders and hospital admissions personnel, perhaps due to a surge of adrenalin. Then, after hours of emergency surgery, doctors induced a coma because of the tremendous pain he was in.
His injuries included spinal processes broken from 21 vertebrae, broken right leg, fractures in both arms, broken pelvis, 21 ribs broken, punctured lung and liver lacerations, internal bleeding in brain, kidneys, liver and lungs. His doctor-induced coma lasted about six weeks.
With his recovery, medical personnel who worked with Sanchez nicknamed him “Miracle Man.” They had not expected him to live – much less to walk again. His accident occurred in Tampa and his mother and daughter came from their home in Naples to be with him. When he was stable enough, Gil was transferred to Lee Memorial Hospital for physical therapy. In total, he was hospitalized for four months. Due to his injuries and continuing pain, Gil is no longer able to work as a carpenter.
He has transitioned from crayons, to brushes, and now to sculpture materials that he became familiar with working in construction and home restoration, including Bondo. Sanchez explains, “Through my artwork, I let my inner child come out to play, making whimsical art pieces full of vibrant colors and character, to bring out a smile or some laughter. But I also like to let my serious side take over to capture a moment in time that somehow has touched my heart and soul or just simply left me in awe.”
The beginnings of Gil’s sculpture career happened when his sister brought him a damaged sculpture of a jaguar belonging to her employer who was reluctantly considering throwing it away due to its deteriorated condition from being displayed outdoors. It was a sentimental piece and his sister was certain that Gil would be able to restore it. Through his work as a carpenter and handyman he had used the material Bondo and became quite skilled at using that material and during his recovery started to make small figures as a hobby. Bondo is one of the main ingredients in his three-dimensional work. Following Gil’s restoration, the jaguar’s owners were relieved and ecstatic to have back their beloved sculpture.Since then he has restored several sculptures.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, he decided to try to make his own life-sized sculpture from scratch. Starting with a tortoise and an elf (for his daughter) he expanded to a Great Horned Owl, which when finished was, “exactly as I had pictured it in my imagination.”
Gil now works outdoors in the creation of his mostly life-sized pieces. “There is never enough sunlight in a day,” declares Sanchez, “I have pain, it is always there, but in working on my art it is easier to ignore.”
One of his most outstanding pieces is a life-size sculpture of a homecoming soldier greeting her small daughter, titled “Welcome Home.” With tears streaming down their faces, that piece elicits strong emotions from all its viewers. It won “Best of Show” in the “This Land” show at the Center for the Arts in Bonita Springs.
Several of his pieces are of humorous subject matter featuring small animals such as mice and frogs. All of his sculptures are life-like and thought-provoking. His work is currently on display at COCO Art Gallery in the Coconut Point Mall (next to Panera Bread) and Naples Art Association.
COCO Art Gallery will host its next reception Oct. 10 from 5 to 7 p.m.
By Barbara Ellis