Sculpting a New Path * CoveyClub

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Covey Podcast

Sculpting a New Path

Dana King on Transitioning from Journalism to Art

with Dana King

“I know that I was not given this gift at the age of 50 to squander,” says Dana King. After 25 years in broadcast journalism, she found her true calling as an artist sculpting black bodies in bronze. “I only tell the story of African descendants and their role here in America,” she tells CoveyClub founder Lesley Jane Seymour. King shares her incredible journey, the challenges she faced, and the powerful stories she tells through her artwork. Whether you’re contemplating a career change or simply looking for a dose of inspiration, her story is a must-listen. 

LJS: So, Dana, I am so excited to have you on the podcast. You have no idea. I love your story. I love your resilience, and I love the fact that you reinvented yourself out of broadcasting into art. And these commissions you are getting are so extraordinary. So, for our audience, who doesn’t know you yet, I’ve had the pleasure of reading your background. Let’s just start [with] a little bit of your history. Where did you grow up? How did you end up in broadcast? What was your thinking

DK: This may take the whole half an hour.

LJS: No, no, no. We have to make it short. We only have a half an hour.

DK: I was born in Ohio to parents – my father was an African American from the south, my mother a Jewish woman from Ohio –and they secretly married in the fifties. And their love is what propels me. I figure if they can back then, I can do anything, right?

And then my dad died when I was one and a half. My brother was three, and so my good mom, yeah, raised us all by herself. In the sixties. And I just think that’s a type of bravery that you don’t even recognize until you’re through it, because it’s daily. And so we moved every seven years. That was the length of their marriage. So my mom would move us. She just had this itch at seven years. So I was born in Ohio, I lived in Indiana. Ultimately ended up in Michigan in a small town called Big Rapids.

I went to high school there and went to college there. And after I graduated, the following week I was in my Volkswagen. This is such a typical kind of characteristic. It’s just, you know, it’s silly. Pack my Volkswagen, put a sign on the window that said California or bust. Put a big fire under my seat. I love it. I didn’t have a job and I didn’t know anybody. And I got an apartment. I figured if I’m moving all that way, I’m going to live on the ocean. I lived in Venice Beach, right on the strand. And I just loved it. I mean, you know, a midwestern woman who grew up there and, you know, had those values instilled in me. And I just went whole hog moving to California. I started my career. I have a degree in marketing.

LJS: Oh, marketing, okay, that makes sense.

DK:  I realized that the only way to establish myself was through sales. And so I got in on the ground floor of cable. At the time, Santa Monica wired for cable. When I sold it door to door.

LJS: Door to door, door to door cable.

DK:  A lot of it, because people were like, wait, you want me to pay for television, right? I know.

LJS: Oh my god. And now we’re like, you know, just bring the bill down and I’ll pay. Yeah. Okay.

DK:  So, then I got assigned to the first sales team, ad sales, and sold airtime for cable. We had no numbers, we had nothing. It was all a conceptual sell. And then I moved over to broadcasting sales and worked at the NBC station, and then got hired by the ABC station and loved it because I wanted to run a tv station. I wanted to be the general manager, but I had a general manager at KBC who liked to move his people around. His name was John Severino. And one day he fired the only Black on-air reporter. And then he panicked. And his secretary, a woman named Berla Rammel, said, well, why don’t you just hire Dana? So he called me into his office and I thought I was in trouble. And he told me he wanted me to be a reporter? And I said, wait, what?

LJS: Yeah, exactly. What?

DK:  And we went around and I basically, I said, no, I don’t want to do it. I want your job.

LJS: Ultimately run it.

DK:  And he said, well, I want you to be a reporter. And I said, oh, big signal, you know, big flag. And I said, okay, I’ll do it, but let’s set a time limit on it, because if I don’t like it, I don’t want to do it, and I want my job back. And if you don’t want [me] doing it, then. Then I want my job back.

LJS: Right. Right.

DK:  And I ended up, 25 years later, retiring from broadcast television.

LJS: That’s amazing.

DK:  Lesley. I was terrible.

LJS: You were terrible for 25 years. I don’t believe it. For 20 seconds. Oh, and you started. Okay, all right. Well, we all had those moments, but…

DK: And I was roundly hated, and understandably so, because I worked with people who worked their entire careers.

LJS: Oh, I see. I see.

LJS: You were an interloper. Okay.

DK: And so my job, I thought, was to earn their respect and to do it quickly, because when you screw…

LJS: …up on tv in LA, everybody knows about it. Yeah.

DK: Everybody knows about it, and they tell you about it. So, I loved my job until I didn’t love it anymore. And, I never wanted to grow old on television.

LJS: Yeah. Yeah.

DK: I didn’t want some man telling me, you know, Dana, you need to pull this up or tighten this or lose weight or grow your hair, cut your hair, whatever. And I say I didn’t want some man telling me that because I never worked for a woman.

LJS: There were no women in senior positions at all.

DK:  Not for years.

LJS: Wow. The women can be as brutal. They can be as brutal, if not more. Just so you know, I worked with women my whole life, and they were some of the most devious, horrible bosses ever. Just because they’re female doesn’t mean that they’re any better. But, yes, you would hope that there would be some kind of understanding there.

DK:  You would. So I decided to go back to school to get my MFA when I was 48.

LJS: Bravo, girlfriend.

DK: And I had been painting. And because I had the type of job that allowed me to travel the world, I was in Afghanistan and Iraq and Kurdistan and the Middle East, and Rwanda. I was. Oh, it was such a great career. And I started to paint. During that time, I was actually in… Where was I? Kosovo. And I realized that I didn’t see women anywhere. And when I found them, if you will, air quotes, they were out in the fields, they were literal workhorses, pulling plows, pushing plows, carrying hay up steep mountain roads. And it made me angry because the men were in the cafes and they were out in the markets, and they were, you know, they were everywhere.

LJS: Wow.

DK: So I came home and I started to paint. I didn’t want to write about it. I just needed to get it out in a way that I didn’t have to talk about it. And so I [painted] a whole series of Muslim women. And that series was what I used to get into graduate school. 

LJS: So had you been any kind of artist before in your life? Like, were you the kid with the the pictures that got put into the exposition for 6th grade?

DK:  No, but, my mom kept all my pictures.

LJS: No, but other than your mom, there was no recognition of your artistic talent before that?

DK:  No.

LJS: Unbelievable. And you just did it because you like it? You didn’t have any formal training, nothing?

DK:  Not really, no.

LJS: That’s unbelievable.

DK: Until I went for my MFA, and I went to learn to paint like the old masters. I wanted to learn about chiaroscuro, black and white, and then glazing, and wasn’t great at it, but I really enjoyed it, and it was hard. And then I took a weekend course with a master sculptor named Philippe Faraut. A friend invited me, and it was in Sacramento, so we had to drive there from the bay. And I didn’t really think anything about it. I just went because I thought it would be fun, and she needed somebody to ride with her, and that was it. I couldn’t even finish the whole weekend. Lesley. I drove back on Sunday to tell this man that I couldn’t stay, that my head was full, I had no more room for any more information. I just needed to go and do the work.

LJS: Wow.

DK: I’ve been doing it ever since.

LJS: Unbelievable.

LJS: And talk about the various things that you have done. You were just telling me in May you had gone up. You’ve got a big commission from Columbia University.

DK: Yes. I get the opportunity to create a bust of Ida B. Wells, who was an amazingly courageous woman who wrote about, and basically was the first person to keep track of lynchings in this country. And because of her work, we know about these things in great detail. Behind me is a sculpture that was commissioned by the San Francisco Giants, to create a sculpture of the very first woman to play professional baseball. Her name was Toni, and Toni played in the negro leagues. And at the end of 2020, major league baseball finally realized that, yes, the negro leagues were major league baseball, and they absorbed all of their records, and now it’s official that…

LJS: Wow, really?

DK: Yeah. And she was a badass. The men hated her. They didn’t want to play with her. They didn’t.

LJS: But they knew she was female. She wasn’t impersonating a male.

DK:  No, no. Married to a man. And she never had children. But, when she was off the field, she would dress in, you know, matching shoes and handbag and hats and gloves. And, I mean, she was all lady off of the field, but on the field she was a terror. She played for some great negro league teams. The Indianapolis Clowns. She played for the New Orleans Creoles. She played for the Kansas City Monarchs. she played in a game against Satchel Paige. She took over at second base for Hank Aaron when he went to Milwaukee to play. So she was the real deal.

LJS: Wow.

DK:  So, yeah, I’ve been blessed with incredible commissions. I have a mission. I only create Black bodies in bronze. I only tell the story of African descendants and their role here in America so that information can be somehow included in the canon of history. America. But also for children, Black children, to see that they have been a part of America all along.

LJS: Yes, they have. No matter how many people try to deny this.

DK:  Right. And I love.

LJS: Oh, man. So, yeah.

DK:  Ah, so that’s happening in this state. So that’s my mission. And I’ve been blessed with amazing commissions, and I just… I will do this as long as my hands hold out. Right.

LJS: That’s amazing.

LJS: Two questions. Why bronze? And then I want to talk about being… starting all over and being shitty at something. Because I think that’s a barrier for a lot of people who want to start all over, and you certainly accept that you’re going to be crappy at it at the beginning. And a lot of people, that’s what keeps them moving. But just tell me quickly so we can finish up the art discussion. Why bronze in particular?

DK:  Bronze is an amazing material, and it lasts forever. So that means that the story that you’re telling in bronze also lasts forever. Right.

LJS: That’s what I was wondering.

DK:  Retold generation after generation. It’s a beautiful material that lends life to the work in a way that my hands can’t. And I love the material, and it lives in nature. It’s a living material. The sun turns it different colors, the water, rain when it’s warm. When you touch the piece, it’s also warm to the touch. So I love bronze, and it lends an honor to the individual that is being created in a way that other materials don’t. So that’s why I love bronze.

LJS: So talk about being crappy at something. When you start over, and you really started over, how did that feel and how did you get through that fear of failure? Because you must have said to yourself when you switched over to be …on air from off air, I suck at this. Maybe I shouldn’t do this. Is this going to jeopardize where I’m heading? You know, how did you know to hang in there? How did you know? Was it other people telling you you were great? Did you, how did you learn? Did you apprentice with somebody and then talk about the art thing, too, or you just muddled through? Did you just muddle through?

DK:  Muddled through? I mean, you know, when I started in broadcasting I sucked, and I grew to be an award-winning journalist. So I saw a transition, a track. It took ten years.

LJS: Ten years. Okay.

DK: I was comfortable being a reporter out in the field, so I knew going in that I was going to suck, and it was going to take time, and I wasn’t in a hurry. I was fired from my job.

LJS: Weren’t we all? If you weren’t fired, as Anna Wintour used to say, if you haven’t been fired from a job, then you really haven’t had a job, you know?

DK:  Right. You haven’t worked hard enough.

LJS: Right.

DK:  So and so, you know, they had to pay me. They paid me for a while, so it allowed me a period of time where I didn’t have to worry about money. So I’m very grateful for that.

LJS: And did you find mentors? Did you find, I mean, what I did as a writer? I mean, I don’t know if you could do this as a journalist, an on-air journalist, but I remember knowing that I had a lot to learn when I started out writing at newspapers and magazines, and I would pick people to kind of imitate. I would, like, find somebody who I admired, and I would study. Like, how do they open a story? And then I would kind of, like, try that myself. And, you know, some of it works. Some of it didn’t work. Like, how did you, did you figure out how to make your… was it just literally just…did you copy anybody? Did you have mentors?

DK:  Everybody else read books?

LJS: Oh, okay.

DK:  I read a catalog of books about broadcasting.

LJS: Okay. Okay.

DK:  And everyone I worked with was great, actually. The crews that I worked in the field with were my biggest…they molded me because they worked with everybody.

LJS: Oh, so they educated you, right.

DK:  They knew who worked hard and who didn’t. Who, you know, slacked off. And they taught me, they taught me how.

LJS: If you’re open. Yeah, I had people like that.

DK:  And when you look at the structure of a news piece, it’s a, let’s say it’s a minute 30. You got two sound bites for 20 or 20 seconds each, right? There’s 40 seconds of it. You have much time left, and then you spend that time for beginning, middle, and end of the story. Boom, you’re done.

LJS: Right.

DK:  So when you analyze the structure, it helps a lot. For art, I, you know, I have favorite sculptors. The thing about sculpture for me was that when I painted, I tried to make it look 3D, because I was a figurative painter as well. But when you’re working in 3D, it’s real. It’s right in front of you. It’s like, well, my head isn’t oblong. It’s, you know, it’s oval. And, you know, you find yourself looking in the mirror at your ears and, you know, looking up at your nose and, I mean, and looking at the structure of your body. And I was an athlete as an adult. I was a rower. And so I learned a lot about the body. And then when I went to school, I learned the names of all the parts of the body and how they were connected and things like that. And so I was able to put that all together. I am definitely a lover of the human body. And so  it’s been trial and error. I don’t rely on people telling me, oh, that’s really good, because what is that about? What’s the motivation for telling me that? And so I just try.

DK: The thing [about being] an artist is to see what do you see, and can you duplicate what you see, whether you’re nearsighted or farsighted? Like some great artists, …they saw [with] a film over their eyes, and that’s how they painted.

LJS: Yeah, that was a revelation. I remember the, what was it, Monet and Giverny. When they showed you that, his eyes.

DK:  We’re going, yeah, beautiful work, beautiful work.

LJS: But he, that’s what he saw. It wasn’t that he was doing some funky thing. It’s that his eyes were going, right. He saw stuff all blurry. Yeah. Like, wow.

DK:  To see. What do you see?

LJS: Yeah. Ah, yeah.

DK:  And how does it translate in your work? And my boyfriend is an incredible artist, and I value his opinion. He’s really hard on me, so sometimes I’m like, okay, enough.

LJS: Get out of here.

DK:  I’m not even working on that part.

LJS: Don’t even look at it.

DK:  So I value his opinion. Signet, he’s a mentor. He’s a coach, and he has my best interest at heart, and I know that.

DK:  And he sees very well.

DK:  His vision of art. So he’s made me a better sculptor and he helps me by creating my graphic pitches that I have when I submit for a commission and a competition. yeah, so he’s been incredibly helpful. But I have a lot of books and they guide me. And again, I have a body, so I look how, you know, my arm falls, or how my hands look when I’m creating someone’s hands. And, it just, you know, I am often my own model, be it a sculpture of a woman or a man. it’s just to guide me to the silhouette of what it is I’m doing. So, but yeah, starting over. When I talk to young people, I like to talk to young people. I remind them that, like, at whatever stage they are, if it’s for graduation, college graduation or high school graduation, that when you started out as a freshman, you were a low person on the totem pole, right? You were the dirt under everybody’s shoes, and now you’re the big, big person on campus. Well, guess what? Your next level, wherever you jump into, whether it’s to college or whether it’s out into the career world, you’re gonna be dirt on the bottom of people’s shoes again. And the next phase is going to take you even longer to succeed. But, you know, you can. So I don’t know. People who know me would say that I’m not necessarily patient at some points in my life, but for this, I am. because it’s clay. I’m working with clay, and [if] it’s not right, I just fix it. It’s not like painting. Painting was very frustrating for me. Like, if you stopped – and I painted in oils – if you stopped, you had to match the color again and the sheen, and the lighting has to be the same. Not sculpture.

LJS: It’s just the clay that’s so interesting.

DK:  And I love that. I love the smell of the clay when I open up a bag, it’s just like earth in my life. It’s so rewarding to me.

LJS: So, id you have serious doubt? I mean, were  you struggling with doubt at all, or you just, that’s your personality, you can just throw it away? Because I know. I know people who are in the middle of these transitions, they’re trying to transition into something they really love, and they’re struggling. They’re struggling to make money. They’re struggling with, should I be doing this? It’s not going my way. How long do I hang in there? Do I turn around? There’s a lot of, you know, fear and practicality, too, if they have to support themselves.

DK:  You know, I did. I did. When the money started to… When it got close to being at the end of my money trail, I thought, oh, I’m not gonna have to go work, work, am I?

LJS: Aha.

DK:  But I would. Cause that’s what we do. If I needed to go work at Starbucks and make coffee, I would.

LJS: Okay.

DK:  Because it would give me time to do the work that I needed to do. I’m never afraid of working, and I don’t need a job with a title so that I can, you know. No, I don’t care. But, I know that the process will go through valleys and great heights. I know that. And even when I finish a piece, I have to love my work before I send it out into the world. And I know that when I’m done, I got to start all over at the bottom again. That transition from the bottom of people’s shoes to the height of the mountaintop. Every sculpture is that. For me, every sculpture, when I start, is terrifying. Like, I hope this comes through. I hope this works, but I just have to. I just have to work on it until it hits that point where it does come through. And, I also have a faith practice. I know that I’m not doing this alone. And I know that I was not given this gift at the age of 50 to squander. And I know that God is not going to drop me on my head and leave me there, wallowing in failure and self doubt. I just. If I’m. If I’m at a point where I’m having difficulty. And I do think that this job, if you will. Being a sculptor, I’m like a MacGyver. I have to figure out problems and I’m a problem solver and I do like that a lot. But I also know that if I’m really stuck and I don’t. I mean, from my first public art piece, which I didn’t know what I was doing, I went to Home Depot and I bought… I didn’t even know how to build an armature, you know, the internal skeleton. So I went and bought piping, that big, thick, black plastic piping. I made his body out of pipes and poured concrete into them to hold them up. And then I did the outside with clay. I mean, I had no… And then when the mold was done of him, he just fell over and was all mushy. It was a mess. It was. I mean, so I know that I’m going to learn a lot, each and every sculpture that I create, and I just have to be patient with that. And I know God’s with me and he’s not going to, he’s not going to let me hang, because he gave me this gift. So.

LJS: Amazing.

LJS: Can you talk just very quickly, because we only have a few minutes left, about white hair on tv.

DK:  Do you ever see it on women? No. On women. I had really short hair when I was broadcasting and, because I’m super lazy and don’t want to mess with It, it was about an inch and a half long.

LJS: Oh my god, I can’t imagine.

DK: Okay, 20 years, and I would cut it with a number five. Cut it myself. It’s not a fancy cut, so.

LJS: Okay.

DK:  So when I decided to… Oh boy, I hope we have time for the story. So I went to Ghana to do a story on witches and witchcraft. Ghanaians are super intelligent. I have a very high, ah, educational level. but there’s a level of superstition in that country and many other countries, Tanzania. And they believe in witchcraft. So I went to witches’ camps that have been around since the 1600s. Long story short, I came back because those women were discarded by their community because they could no longer contribute, meaning they were menopausal. 

LJS: Oh, oh, oh.

DK:  And I came home, a woman of that age, and I thought, why am I trying to pretend that I’m not whatever age I was at the time? Why am I dying my hair? So I told my boss I was going to stop dying it. And he said, I don’t think so. And so I went and I dyed it one more time, and when I took the towel off my head, I looked in the mirror and I said, that’s it. I’m not doing this again. I’m not going to deny my humanity, and I’m not going to deny the humanity of millions of women who are forced to do this. And so I stopped dying it. And people thought I was sick at first. They were like… I would get letters.

LJS: Oh, oh, oh. Interesting.

DK: Because it came in like a leopard pattern. It was really… And then it grew in, like, completely, because it was short, so it took about a month, and it was fully grown in. And, why am I telling this story?

LJS: No, I just wanted to know that, didn’t they? You said to me, I think that they pushed you out because of the gray hair.

DK:  Yeah, I signed an NDA, but I don’t really care.

LJS: Okay.

DK: But, yeah. So I got called into the office, and my co-anchor, a very wonderful man, had gray hair, thinning, and the whole thing. And my boss said, you know, Dana, you’re here. There’s a distraction because your skin is so dark and your hair is so white. And I was like, whoo.

LJS: Whoo.

DK:  That’s a lawsuit right there. Boom.

LJS: That’s like a double lawsuit, isn’t it?

DK:  Keep talking. I am all ears. So, I got out of that meeting, and at the end, I told him, listen, you do what you need to do, I’m gonna do what I need to do. Make me an offer.

LJS: And that was it.

DK:  You did one pass at me, and that was it.

LJS: Well, good for you, girlfriend.

DK:  And then I decided, well, I’ll just…

LJS: Your hair is extraordinary. I mean, you’re like a hair commercial. That’s the amazing thing. I look at you, and I’m like, okay, what hair product is she selling?

DK:  So I had no idea I had this. I had no idea I had this talent, which is the point. And what it is that you do, helping women understand that…who you are, you are not even touching on what your potential is. At 50, at, ah, 60, at 70. I just saw something across my feed on Instagram: 90-year-old woman went back to become a barber. Man, she’s cutting the flyest, dopest hair. That’s great.

LJS: I have not seen that one.

DK:  She gets on her horse and she rides to her little salon every day. She’s 90.

LJS: I love it.

DK:  So, yeah, don’t limit yourself. Don’t. I mean, take different courses. Just you. I’ve taken welding courses. I’ve taken. I mean, you don’t know what’s going to stick. I didn’t know that sculpture was going to stick. I had no idea that I had this gift.

LJS: As we get to close, because we’re over time, but just really quickly: three fast tips for women who want to make a big change. Like you might be, like you have done inspirational pointers that they may not have gotten from their friends who’ve not done it. What would you say?

DK:  Listen to yourself. Don’t listen to your friends. Don’t listen to your spouse. Don’t listen to anybody else. Listen to yourself. Don’t even tell people what you’re thinking of doing, because now you’re obligated. Right. Have the conversation with yourself and you know what it is that you want for your life. It may, you may not have, drilled down into the exact. What that looks like, but it will come. Sit with it, breathe it in, breathe it out. Just sit with things. Things that excite you, things that make you happy, things that you think the world needs. Things that you want to do for the rest of your life. Right. And don’t share it with people until you’re ready to. Until you can say, this is what I’ve been doing, and they drop to their knees. Right. Like what?

LJS: What? Yeah. Okay.

DK:  And even then, don’t worry about what people say, really. If you love what it is you are creating, and it could be art, it could be music, it could be words, it could be, it could be anything. Whatever it is that is coming from you as a creation, if you love it, it doesn’t matter who else loves it. It doesn’t matter.

DK:  I don’t sell my work. I mean, there’s a gallery that represents me. There’s an amazing book called Art/Work that really taught me how to pursue a gallery, taught me how to write a contract, taught me everything about the business of art, because there is a business side to it, but I don’t participate in that unless I really, really have to. And public art allows me to create the kind of work I want. And I work with municipalities and foundations and things like that, and they already have the contract, so I’m good. So that’s what I recommend, man. Don’t tell anybody. Don’t ask anybody for guidance. Just listen to yourself. Trust yourself. Trust that what is inside of you wants to come out. If you think about it, it’s there and it wants to come out.

LJS: And if the financials are not there for your thing that you’re doing, then you would have a separate job or whatever, as you said, to support what you’re doing. 

DK:  Absolutely. And a job that doesn’t require my intelligence.

LJS: Right, right. Just something to pay the bills.

DK:  Yeah. That will allow me to think about what it is I want to create while [making] the coffee or whatever. Right.

LJS: Okay. so two-track. It might be a two-track. So you can do what you feel you need to do and want to do.

DK:  Right. And sell your stuff. I mean, how much stuff do we all have? There’s so many avenues to sell things nowadays. Clothing, jewelry, furniture. Sell it. Right. And start over. I’m a firm believer in that scene in How Stella Got Her Groove Back after she burns her husband’s car because he’s been cheating on her. She has this long, luxurious hair, and she cuts it all off. And that’s her outward facing. I’m starting over. My outward facing. I’m starting over. Before I left broadcasting I had tattooed –I  know this is all on my feet, literally – this saying by the Sufi poet, Rumi, “Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.” And went to work, or I went out and I looked down at my feet. That was my reminder that I am in charge of my soul. Well, God is in charge of my soul, but I’m working with him. But it’s my responsibility to nurture it and take care of it.

LJS: Awesome. 

DK:  And that was my outward sign. So yeah, there’s a lot of ways to make money. There’s a lot of ways to end and start over. But it begins when you have that feeling that there’s something else you want to do. Then it’s there, then it’s on.

LJS: Awesome. Wonderful. Incredible. Dana, thank you so much. You’re such an inspiration. I just can’t even believe it. And so wonderful to speak with you. Thank you so, so much. Where can everybody find your sculptures? Are you online? Do you have an Instagram?

DK:  I have an Instagram and I have a website, Dana King Art. Super creative.

LJS: Okay. Good enough.

 DK:  Thank you. Lesley, you’re awesome.

LJS: Thank you.

DK:  I appreciate your mission to help women to be who they are meant to be.

LJS: Yep. That’s the goal. Thank you.


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