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Posted on Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Independence Day: Saline sculptor Anthony Frudakis honors Thomas Jefferson

By Janet Miller

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.”



Thu, Jul 5, 2012 : 12:09 a.m.

Let me get this straight, so we have a well known sculptor of bronze statues within a few miles of Ann Arbor and he does Thomas Jefferson like few others ever have - but the "art committee" picks someone we never heard of to do a bronze casting of a light emitting diode-illuminated washboard?? Now if artist Frudakis will only start putting LEDs on his statues of Jefferson, we'll be just fine, right? And he should have water running down his face, don't forget the running water!!

Jack Campbell

Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 11:40 p.m.

I really dig this, nice work! Would love to see one of Andrew Jackson.

Kitty O'Brien

Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 10:10 p.m.

Tony was my professor at Hillsdale College. The man is a genius.


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 6:19 p.m.

Where's the anti-art crowd?


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

The only anti-art crowd I know of is the anti $ 800,000 foreign crappy art paid by taxpayers that doesn't even work crowd


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 5:45 p.m.

You may be right, justcary....The existing "artwork piece" could be used for watering horses. That at least would give it some kind of function or relevance.


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 4:04 p.m.

A passing understanding of who Jefferson was no more qualifies a critic of sculpture than that critic's complete ignorance of the language of modern art. One purpose of civic art is to elevate the individual, not to take requests or make something pretty. You can lead the horse to water, anyway.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 4:02 p.m.

Is it made out of butter?

Stephen Landes

Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

I never knew we had an artist of monuments with such accomplishments in our midst. A statue of Jefferson in front of City Hall would have been far more attractive and useful than the "thing" that is there now.


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 3:31 p.m.

Why doesn't Ann Arbor spend it "ART FUND" on some real American art instead of that "elite art" that they keep behind security in city hall? I know it is too patriotic for the Liberals in Ann Arbor!


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 4:31 p.m.

xmo....I got deleted so I'll re-word it.Sometimes I don't agree with you but this time you're spot on


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

taste , or lack thereof, in art transcends political labels......


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

Darn....I thought the statue was made of butter!


Fri, Jul 6, 2012 : 3:37 a.m.

But so much more elegant that that cow at the State Fair.


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

Sure does look like that, doesn't it?

Elijah Shalis

Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

Cool that should stand in Ann Arbor or another piece

Dog Guy

Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 2:06 p.m.

Cool! I had never heard of lost-urethane casting. The bubblepack modification to the step stool is interesting as well. Most impressive, however, are Frudakis' research inquiry and disciplined craftsmanship which allow his art to travel freely through centuries of history and human experience. He is not just an artist of today.


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.'s a link to some of my own bronze work: actually some modern sculptors like segal do their work directly from plaster casts of live models...and t.v. critic gene shalit's daughter does exquisite bronzes from plaster life masks . from classic to baroque periods alot of fine detail figurative bronze work was done by simply casting directly from the living object ( "lost lizard', lost grapevine' etc...and one of my foundry friends did alot of bronze embryonic chickens.)....take the original, coat in fire resistant ceramic, burn out the flesh ( instead of a wax replica), pour in the metal and voila!.

Dog Guy

Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 3:53 p.m.

Thanks, bedrog, for the additional info. Aware that mentioning it merits ostracism, some lifesize bronzes from Pericles' time appear to have started as molds made on living models.


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

the use of urethane scale- ups of smaller originals is tied to computers that allow scanning , scale adjustments and precision carving from the originals ( a vast time saver over the traditional precise hand measuring and adjustments of olden times ...i.e. from the greeks to just pre computers. the original lincoln original clay about 2 feet high-- (or mt rushmore for that matter) was done in the old way, obviously ...although with fine results. the urethane will likely be used to generate a wax hollow copy that will indeed be cast in the classic "lost wax/ cire perdu technique. no reason though for frudakis ( one of a family of sculpting royalty) to have sent to calif to do it though... state of the are scale up facilities exist alot closer.


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 11:24 a.m.

Maybe we could melt down the junk in front of city hall and have a real piece of art instead.


Thu, Jul 5, 2012 : 3:06 a.m.

Thanks again for sharing the link to your work, Steve. You are very talented. I wish the A2 Art Commission would wise up and look in our own "backyard" for local artists.


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 5:36 p.m.

tnb...thanks re my sculpture ( i feel more free to 'out ' myself on threads like this than on more politically volatile ones) ...


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

Thanks, bedrog. Steve's work is beautiful, too. I know there are many talented artists in our area, and our state...Sorry, I had my sarcasm font on in my previous post...


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

tnb...there are a number; e.g.


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 12:02 p.m.

Who knew we had "local" artists? Beautiful work; too bad A2 had to go outside the area, and the U.S., for their commissioned piece!


Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 10:16 a.m.

Oh Boy.....I already know what the comments will be

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

If I weave intimate relations with slaves in to the topic do I win a prize?

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jul 4, 2012 : 12:26 p.m.

I wonder how many solar panels you need to melt that Bronze? ;)