Professor Charles Jackson Dudley
"Professor Charles Jackson Dudley, who passed away on March 25th, 2019, was beloved by generations of students at Virginia Tech. Upon his retirement from the position of Director of the Virginia Tech Honors Program, his staff asked that I craft a bronze portrait bust of "Jack," as he was affectionately known. I modeled him from life in clay, in his home, with his wife Larkin often present, and as I worked, we talked. This was a wonderful time. With his open, engaging face, large features, slightly mussed hair and tie knot characteristically awry, Jack was an outstanding subject, and the resulting bronze bust was warmly received. It is permanently installed in the Honors Lounge of Hillcrest Hall, and decorated appropriately; for example, with a mortarboard at graduation, or Santa's cap at Christmas.
Nannie B. Hairston
"I met Nannie B. Hairston in 1997, at Schaeffer Memorial Baptist Church,in Christiansburg Virginia, where she showed me, on the wall behind the pulpit, a painted portrait of Captain Charles Schaeffer, who is remembered for his founding of the church, and the first school--known as "The Hill School"--for newly emancipated slaves soon after the Civil War ended. I proposed to do a portrait sculpture of Captain Schaeffer, and she agreed to organize a fundraising campaign. Thus began our remarkable friendship, which endured until her death at age 95 in July, 2017. I was so impressed with Ms. Hairston that after completing the Schaeffer bust I undertook a portrait bust of her, which after another fundraising campaign and approval by the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, was duly cast in bronze and permanently installed in the Montgomery County Government Center building, in Christiansburg. I was asked to be the concluding speaker at a memorial celebration of her life at the Christiansburg Public Library on August 11, 2018. You can find my remarks by scrolling the timer forward to 1:08.00."
Mimi and Isaac
"The parents of this brother and sister, Mimi and Isaac, commissioned me to 'capture' their likeness just at the cusp between childhood and adolescence. I knew there was no time to dawdle, for how quickly the one fades as the other blooms! It was summertime, appropriately, and so I was able to model each of them from life while seated outside, a pleasant little waterfall at my back."
Captain Michael Martino
"Through the National Sculpture Society, which was facilitating a project to honor fallen American soldiers, I was put in touch with the parents of Captain Michael Martino, who was killed in Iraq on his second tour of duty in 2005 while flying a combat mission. I visited his parents in their home before starting the work, listened to their memories of their son, read some of the many battlefield citations he had received and which they had mounted on the wall, saw the model airplanes he had built as a boy. This was all a very moving experience and impressed upon me the gravity of the task I had undertaken. Over the ensuing months, using many pictures Michael's mother had provided, and with frequent email correspondence and images of my progress, I worked to translate the aspirational and dutiful qualities of Michael's nature,tempered by battlefield experience, into a fitting and faithful portrait, cast in resin and mounted on a cherry wood base. In company with my wife Ann, I delivered this to the Martinos in January 2019. Bob Martino had prepared a delicious chicken piccata dinner for us. It was a wonderful and memorable occasion."
"I became acquainted with Frederick Douglass through a PBS documentary from about 2005. Struck by the sculptural power of his face, I almost immediately went down into my studio and began modeling him in clay, and then read his autobiography--or the first version of it--and began to wonder how it was, that as far as I could remember, there had been no mention of him in my public school or college education. In 2010, I revisited the subject of Frederick Douglass when I submitted credentials and a clay maquette for a commission competition for a heroic-scale sculpture of him for the courthouse grounds in Talbot County, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore, where he was born a slave and lived his childhood years. I was late into the game, did not get the commission, but once again became absorbed in rendering the power of his face and figure. And just this past year, while again on the Eastern Shore for an annual Thanksgiving event known as "Etaturk," my wife and I visited "Vintage Books" in downtown Easton, and I purchased Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, the new biography by David Blight. This astonishing and readable work of scholarship establishes without doubt that Frederick Douglass is one of the great figures in the whole of American history. Born into slavery, he became one of the greatest orators of the nineteenth century, and, according to David Blight, the most photographed American of his times. Though illiterate in childhood, he taught himself to read and write as a teen, achieved an eloquence and power which few writers have ever equaled, edited a newspaper, The North Star, became a friend of and counselor to Abraham Lincoln, and labored with astounding vigor to achieve the freedom and equality of African Americans. Though an impossible task, I strove to translate my understanding of this great American into his portrait bust, which is still in clay, because it is large (24" high and 18" wide at the shoulders) and would be expensive to cast. Someday!"
Thomas Jefferson & Isaac Granger
"In 2004, I received a 'Call for Artists' from the Class of 1974 of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia soliciting proposals for an 'original bronze of Thomas Jefferson.' It was an exciting opportunity, and I jumped on it. At that time, Jefferson's association with slavery was treated rather gingerly and the idea that he had fathered children by Sally Hemings was still in dispute. But after reading Fawn Brodie's Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate Biography, I resolved that my original bronze of Thomas Jefferson must somehow incorporate slavery. I struggled with how to do this until I came across a striking daguerreotype of Isaac Jefferson, one of his slaves (but not one of his children), as well as a brief memoir Isaac had dictated. So I decided to do two portrait sculptures, one of Jefferson and one of Isaac, of equal size, to be displayed side-by-side. I didn't win the commission, and was left with the question of what to do with the two over-life-size clay sculptures in my studio. Eventually, a friend and businessman from Virginia Beach paid to have them both cast in bronze, and I wrote a historical novel, A Partial Sun, based upon an incident Isaac related in his memoir. If I had won the commission, I would probably not have undertaken the book. So I'm glad I didn't, and glad I did!"
"This is an early work--from when I was just beginning to focus on portrait sculpture--of our daughter Haley, when she was four years old. The story behind the sculpture is better than the sculpture itself, so I will indulge myself here and tell it for you. At the time, Haley had an imaginary friend by the name of 'Sabine.' Sometimes, I would tiptoe up the stairs and eavesdrop on Haley talking to her friend Sabine. The name greatly puzzled her mother and I because it was so unusual: where had our daughter come up with it? Now, the modelling of her portrait went well until I got to her hair; I just couldn't seem to capture her long curls in clay. So I put down my tools and sought advice from the master of portraiture: Jean Antoine Houdon, the 18th century French sculptor known in the United States for his vivid marble portrait sculptures of George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, and in France for his sculptures of Napoleon, Voltaire, and many other notable figures. I didn't of course go back in time to query Houdon; I rode my bicycle over to the The Art and Architecture Library at Virginia Tech and checked out the big volume of photographs of Houdon's sculptures. I'd checked out this book often, closely studied many of the photographed sculptures--and remembered that it contained photographs of portrait sculptures of his children--which I had largely passed over, except to note that one of them had long curly hair. When I got the book home, I paged through it until I found that one photograph of his daughter. Then, for the very first time, I read the caption--which so shocked me that I carried the book upstairs to show Ann. For the caption identified this daughter of Houdon as 'Sabine,' modelled at 'age four.'"
"From the moment my mother discovered, as a grade school librarian, The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, and the other Narnian books, she became a great admirer of C.S. Lewis, and encouraged me to read those books. I wasn't interested, alas. She did, however, put The Hobbit, by Lewis' Oxford friend J.R.R. Tolkien, into my hands, followed by The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and those books for me, then in sixth grade, became an epic reading adventure which has had lasting effects upon my imagination.By the time I was a grown man and a sculptor, Wheaton College, where my father taught and from which I graduated, had developed a world-class collection of Lewis and Tolkien archival materials, largely through the dedication and persistence of Clyde Kilby, a long-time Wheaton professor, and a good friend, with his wife Martha, of my parents. This collection outgrew its original location in Buswell Library, and through a generous endowment provided by the Marion E. Wade Foundation, was re-housed in a dedicated building, the Wade Center. By that time, the archives also included materials from George MacDonald, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton, Owen Barfield, and Dorothy L. Sayers, British authors who along with Lewis and Tolkien "blended faith, intellect, and imagination."
"My mother, now retired and still an admirer of C.S.Lewis, was firm in her belief that I ought to do a bust of Lewis for the Wade Center; more than firm, she actually provided the funds, and so I worked with a Wade Center review committee in developing just such a portrait bust. The work for me went on for eleven months, and in the process I at last began to truly appreciate the breadth and brilliance of Lewis' mind, and his astonishing output as literary critic, essayist, poet, apologist, and fiction writer. My favorite works were Perelandra, the second book in his space trilogy, Surprised by Joy, an autobiography of his early life, and The Great Divorce. This parable-like story is about a busload of people from hell (described as a kind of tawdry London suburb) who are given the opportunity to visit heaven and remain there if they so desire--yet most of the passengers return to their hell! Heaven is too bright for them, too actual, too real.
"As I was nearing completion of the clay prototype from which the bronze bust would be cast, after eleven months of work, I had a very curious experience. I was finishing up Lewis' hair, just at his forehead, where it was very thin and proving difficult to model.Suddenly and very distinctly, I felt a presence--as if the spirit of C.S.Lewis were for an instant drawn from some far place to visit this replica of his physical self upon which I had devoted so much time and concentration; in the next instant the presence was gone and I could smell his scalp--strange as that may sound--and knew with certainty that he had not often washed his hair. That certainty was followed by the knowledge of why that was likely the case: for a long time he and his brother had lived in a run-down sort of place with poor plumbing just outside Oxford called 'The Kilns.'
"The unveiling of the finished bronze bust of C.S.Lewis on its stone base took place in a conference room on the second floor of Buswell Library. As the cloth was pulled away, a woman--and friend of my mother--rushed up and embraced me, almost in a fright. From where she was sitting, she said, it was just like Lewis was looking directly at her."