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Albert Paley

By on January 30, 2019

American modernist metal sculptor

Albert Paley started out as a jewelry designer. He was educated at Tyler School of Art, an art and architecture school  based at Temple University, a large, urban, public research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Paley was born in Philadelphia. He moved to Rochester in 1969 to teach at Rochester Institute of Technology School of American Crafts, where he still holds a distinguished professorship. He also served on the faculty of SUNY College at Brockport.

Paley is the first metal sculptor to receive the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Architects, the AIA’s highest award to a non-architect.

Paley’s designs are rooted in an extensive understanding of design aesthetics and history, with influences of rococo and art nouveau. He says, “My involvement with aesthetics has gone through various phases over the years. In this evolution the constant has always been my focus on personal awareness and perception. My investigation in form development centers on the exploration of material characteristics, related processes and technologies. In creating a work of art, besides my personal experience, my concern is how it emotionally and intellectually engages the viewer. Through the creative process I have developed a personal visual vocabulary fundamentally based in symbolism and metaphor which is implicit in my work.”

His work includes large scale architectural projects, gates, public sculpture, landscape sculpture, glass and steel sculpture, small scale sculpture, furniture, works on paper and currently a new endeavor designs for hand knotted carpet. His artistic career spans a period of over 50 years.

Paley’s breakthrough came in 1972 when he was commissioned by the Smithsonian to design the portal gates for the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. His first major public sculpture was for the Strong Museum in 1982 which showed his transition from smaller-scale to monumental size in sculpture. This was also a time when he went to complexity in form and color. In summer of 2013 thirteen sculptures were installed for an exhibition on Park Avenue in NYC between 52nd and 67th Streets.

When asked about how individuals should view his art Paley said, “I would never tell anyone how to approach the viewing of my art just like I would never tell someone how to listen to music, it is all art. Whatever an individual brings to the experience is their own sense of the piece. It comes from their past experiences. I am giving the information and the viewer puts it into their own context. It is however they see it. It is not literal, to understand art is to view it within the environment and to sense the energy and to bring personal experiences to appreciate a piece with their own senses.”

Within each of his works three foundational elements stay true: the natural environment, the built environment, and the human presence.

In 2017 Paley collaborated with Jesse James of West Coast Choppers to make two sculptures, each artist started one sculpture and shipped it to the other to finish. The collaboration was highlighted in an hour-long documentary “Dialogue in Metal.” A screening of the documentary was held at the Little Theatre and was followed by a Question and Answer session with both Paley and James. The documentary also aired in November 2018 on PBS WXXI. About the experience Paley said, “I originally thought Jesse was going to ask me to do a design for one of his motorcycles, when he told me his idea I thought it would be a unique opportunity, something that was a challenge because we have both common and uncommon ground in our art.” After being on display, the sculptures will be sold and proceeds will go to scholarships to help people in the trades such as machinists and welders. 

A Visit to the Lyell Avenue Paley Studio

Early in 2020 when Paley’s  lease expires on his Lyell Avenue studio, his largest at 40,000 square feet, he will be downsizing his operation. The goal in downsizing is to reassess how he wants to move forward with his art and focus more on intimacy in his work. His Lyell Avenue studio is where large scale fabrication of site specific works occurs. His future plans include focusing energy on more one-of-a-kind pieces, estate planning and legacy planning. He also has a large archive and is working out plans to place it in an institution for educational purposes.

The first floor is the fabrication area, a towering well organized studio where large scale sculptures are made. The studio is divided into fabrication area, raw materials area, a wood working shop where containers are made in house for shipping works of art, a tool and die section and completed works area.

The second floor of the studio houses the offices, gallery and archive of Paley’s work. Throughout the gallery are completed works, small scale models fabricated in cardboard, a process Paley uses in design of the towering large scale sculptures, framed drawings from his earliest works, completed works in glass and metal, rooms of archive works on paper, designs, a media archive and some examples of his latest artistic endeavor – designs for hand knotted wool area rugs.

Photos by Karen Fien


Paley work on paper.


Cardboard models of sculptures.


Works on display in the Lyell Avenue gallery.


Metal gate on display in gallery.


Glass and metal work.


“Candlestick” Candelabrum located at Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY.


Glass and metal work.


Works on display in gallery.


“Soliloquy” sculpture located outside of Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY.


Paley work at Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY.


Tables in the works at the Lyell Avenue studio.


Detailed Paley drawing.

Albert at work in his studio.

Albert Paley at work in his Lyell Avenue studio.


Supplies in studio.


Overhead view of Paley fabrication studio.


Worker in fabrication studio using a grinder.


Paley employee working in fabrication studio.


Employee working in fabrication studio.


Early photo in the Lyell Avenue gallery of Paley with sculpture.