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Posted on Tue, Dec 25, 2012 : 6:59 a.m.

Two Ann Arbor area artists work together to bring bronze Thomas Jefferson statue to life

By Janet Miller

Thomas Jefferson by Saline artist Anthony Frudakis.JPG

Thomas Jefferson, sculpted by Anthony Frudakis and cast in bronze by Tad McKillop.

Janet Miller | Ann

Saline artist Anthony Frudakis - guided by live models, a period costume rented from Colonial Williamsburg, and countless books and paintings - sculpted an instantly recognizable, 7-foot-tall Thomas Jefferson statue for a high school in Iowa. But he needed the help of another Ann Arbor area artist to bring his statue into its final bronze form.

Frudakis and his partner in the 18-month project, foundryman and fellow sculptor Tad McKillop, said goodbye to the larger-than-life statue of the nation’s third president last week as it made its way to its new home: Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

McKillop spent the summer casting Jefferson using what’s called the lost-wax process. Together, the two artists put between 800 and 1,000 hours of work into the monument. The cost of the project is estimated to be somewhere between $90,000 and $125,000.

“It was a long road,” Frudakis said.

Thomas Jefferson hand by Anthony Frudakis.JPG

Janet Miller |

The statue depicts Jefferson with a strong chin, piercing eyes, a slightly cocked head, and ruffled cuffs. The book he clutches pays homage to the literary Jefferson; his strong calves remind the viewer that Jefferson was a horseman.

“Tony’s a highly skilled sculptor with great attention to detail. It’s a very crafted piece,” McKillop said. “Everyone who comes into the studio knows it’s Thomas Jefferson. That’s a good sign.”

With each step - sculpting small models out of clay, creating a 2-foot clay scale model, turning that into a 7-foot urethane foam model, and making two sets of molds for the bronze - the project had to be sand blasted, refined and cleaned to maintain the original details, from the soft creases in Jefferson’s waistcoat to the surface veins in his right hand.

The lost wax process requires precision, Frudakis said. “There’s a lot of room for error. Mistakes can happen.” But the monument emerged exactly as Frudakis had envisioned, he said. “He made it look like the original, which is exactly the goal.”

McKillop made rubber and then ceramic molds for each of the six sections of the monument. Then 800 pounds of orange-hot bronze was poured into the molds. The heat is so intense, McKillop said he’s been known to scorch his own eyebrows and eyelashes. “People are always surprised by how hot it is. But that’s how bronze happens,” he said.

Foundryman ad McKillop with bronze Jefferson.JPG

Tad McKillop with the finished statue.

Janet Miller |

McKillop eventually welded the six parts together, smoothing the seams to make them disappear, to produce the towering Jefferson. He applied a ferric nitrate finish with a heat torch, which will allow Jefferson to stand sturdy, rain or shine.

While McKillop is a sculptor first (his art appears around Ann Arbor and beyond, including the Sauk Theater Muse in Jonesville), he is easing into casting other artists’ work. The Jefferson monument is one of his biggest projects so far.

With his own foundry nine miles north of Ann Arbor, McKillop casts all of his own work. Most sculptors don’t have the equipment and detailed knowledge to cast their own pieces, McKillop said. There aren’t many artist foundries close by, and most sculptors go to the Detroit area or beyond for casting, McKillop said.

While sculpting is creative, casting is more technical, McKillop said. “It has its rewards. I can be quite Zen-like, especially the grinding and metal work. But it’s physically hard work.”



Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

amazing. Using actual historical quotes from our Founding Fathers violates conversation guidelines.


Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

It's not surprising, because even citing the Declaration of Independence could be construed as sedition and/or treason, given it is a treasonous document against ruling powers. Or as Woodrow Wilson said, "It's not for philosophical debate but a whip for tyrants." We have a very sensitive leadership in sensitive times.


Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

BEAUTIFUL! Nice job artists!


Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.

Marvelous. A great piece of artwork. Congratulations to both for such a beautiful statute.


Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 12:51 a.m.

Beautiful piece of work


Tue, Dec 25, 2012 : 3:06 p.m.

Thomas Jefferson: prodigious reader, fine horseman, and life-long failure at running his slave-supported estate. Quite a guy was Old Tom. ;-) Actually, I enjoy bronze work. But sometimes all that work goes to idealize people who turn out to have flaws, sometimes big ones. Best of luck to Mssrs. Frudakis and McKillop. Good work for a start. Hope you've both studied Auguste Rodin.


Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

The Founders all had flaws, but they took on great challenges at great personal risk and created the foundation of a country that still has had no equal in all humankind. Another group of such flawed men will never again achieve what they did, for which the world is the worse off. I think a statue or two is a worthwhile tribute, a rather puny tribute in comparison to their efforts, but since we can't seem to expand on the work they began, a statue is the best we can do. Obviously, we're very flawed ourselves. Besides, the statue is spectacular.


Tue, Dec 25, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

I'm far more concerned with the prospect of a bronze zombie Thomas Jefferson rampaging through Ann Arbor.

Dog Guy

Tue, Dec 25, 2012 : 1:49 p.m.

What most amazes me is that one sculptor would work his craft diligently on another sculptor's vision. Aren't artists supposed to be egomaniacs? More suitable for Ann Arbor than Jefferson would be Frudakis' unchained and dancing on air Andromeda in East Lansing (worth the drive to see). Andromeda, an Ethiopian whose name means "ruler of men", is more politically tuned to Ann Arbor's frequency and is prettier. But I am not sure that Ann Arbor's requisite flashing LED's would harmonize.


Tue, Dec 25, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

We could have had something like this instead of the monstrosity in front of city hall. For a lot less cost it would have given that city a piece of art that we could be proud to have. It would also have patronized local artists.


Tue, Dec 25, 2012 : 3:06 p.m.

Yes, but would it have still had blinky blue lights? Because nothing says "fine art" quite like blinking lights. Not to mention the fact that council misappropriated the money for it in the first place. Say, how is that repeal of the "1%" ordinance coming along now that the citizens clearly told you what to do?