Independence Day: Saline sculptor Anthony Frudakis honors Thomas Jefferson
As the country celebrates the Fourth of July, Thomas Jefferson stands center stage as drafter of the Declaration of Independence.
Saline sculptor Anthony Frudakis has gotten to know every physical detail of this founding father and third president of the United States, from his tall and lanky frame to his neatly ribboned ponytail to his buckled shoes.
Working in his light-filled studio behind his house in a neighborhood south of downtown Saline, Frudakis is in the final stages of creating a seven-foot bronze monument of Jefferson that will stand in the foyer of Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The school district commissioned the work as part of a school remodeling project.
While Frudakis is no stranger to sculpting the world’s great historical, mythological and spiritual figures — from George Washington to Socrates to the Madonna — Jefferson is a favorite. In fact, this is Frudakis’ second Jefferson monument. The other, a seated statue of Jefferson, is at Hillsdale College, where he teaches.
There is a connection to Jefferson, Frudakis said. “Some of the people I sculpt I admire because of their incredible contribution and the life that they lived. That’s Abe Lincoln. Washington has the stature almost of a demigod. But Jefferson is an imperfect hero. His flaws are well-publicized. His being less than perfect is something I can relate to.”
More than clay and bronze went into making the monument. Frudakis researched Jefferson before he began the project more than a year ago, reading biographies, studying paintings and buying a copy of an 1800 bust of Jefferson. “It’s crucial getting a better understanding of the man, what he thought, what he liked to do,” Frudakis said. “All of that shapes the piece, especially in terms of the pose.”
Jefferson was a formal man with refined taste, and that’s reflected in the monument, Frudakis said. He was a questioning man and that comes through with the statue’s slight tip of the head. Jefferson loved books (he sold his collection to the Library of Congress), and the statue has Jefferson grasping a tome, with a finger wedged between the pages. He was also an accomplished equestrian and liked to walk, and that is reflected in the statue’s sturdy calves. “He was a thoughtful, insightful yet restrained person,” Frudakis said. “His (left) hand on his coat shows self-containment.”
His left hand positioned over his heart came to have another meaning, Frudakis said. He used Jefferson’s “My Heart, My Head” letter written to possible love interest Maria Cosway as inspiration for the statue. In the lengthy letter, Jefferson holds a debate between his heart and his head. The book represents the head, Frudakis said, while Jefferson’s left hand clenching his jacket represents the heart side of the debate.
In the name of authenticity, Frudakis rented a Thomas Jefferson costume — waistcoat, topcoat, ruffled shirt, breeches and buckled shoes — from Colonial Williamsburg and hired a live model. He sculpted a series of six eight-inch tall models out of clay (called sketches) of Jefferson in different poses.
He sculpted a two-foot scale model of the pose the school district selected, which was sent to a company in California that enlarged the model into a seven-foot urethane foam model, cut in sections, which was sent back to Frudakis, where he has refined the work. A mold will be made and it will be sent to a local foundry to be turned into bronze, the casing process taking another three or four months.
Frudakis has sculpted 20 public monuments that stand in city parks, college campuses and along roadways: Socrates stands in a city park in Astoria, NY; Andromeda dances along Grand River Avenue in downtown East Lansing; the three Hamilton sisters, including Edith, who was considered greatest female classicist, are immortalized in Headwaters Park in Fort Wayne, Ind. The monuments cost between $90,000 and $125,000, Frudakis said.
But it’s not just the world’s great minds that capture Frudakis’ attention. He’s working on a smaller, three-foot bronze statue of a bare-chested man with a scruffy beard wearing a baseball cap gazing into the distance. He’s like Odysseus on the island of Calypso, from Homer’s epic poem, Frudakis said.
There are still heroes Frudakis would like to sculpt, such as abolitionist Frederick Douglass. “He’s overdue,” Frudakis said. While Frudakis has immortalized these figures, they have also taught him a thing or two, he said. “There’s a great benefit to me personally that’s enriched my life by getting to know them better through their own words and coming to better understand their words and values and the lives that they lived.”