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Wolfe & Mini-Maggie

In a year, Abraham Lincoln will find himself in the presence of an old friend, Fred­erick Dou­glass, brought to life by Bruce Wolfe.

The Cal­i­fornia-native artist will sculpt the much-antic­i­pated statue, due for com­pletion in August, of the famed abo­li­tionist and writer for Hillsdale’s Liberty Walk. Wolfe and the college finalized the design Tuesday.

A com­mittee of faculty members looked at designs from a number of sculptors over a period of five months for the pro­gressing Dou­glass sculpture to be added among other his­toric fighters for freedom. The com­mittee made their decision on Wolfe in May.

“We thought he’d be a good fit for Dou­glass. He showed real passion for the subject itself, which comes into play,” Michael Harner, chief staff officer for the President’s Office told the Col­legian.

Wolfe has a per­sonal con­nection to the project, being the great-great-grandson of Stephen Bovell Shelledy, an abo­li­tionist “buddy” of Abraham Lincoln who also knew Dou­glass well, the sculptor said.

The 74-year-old “con­ser­v­ative artist” is not new to the Hillsdale sphere. He created the only statue of Mar­garet Thatcher in North America, which rests outside the Stro­sacker Science Building after its ded­i­cation in 2008.

“We have a history. It wasn’t a major factor point in it. It was a starting point, but if you know somebody, you talk to them,” Harner said. “He put forth some stuff we really liked.”

Nonetheless, a com­bi­nation of Wolfe’s history with the college, spirit for the project, and design ideas won him the oppor­tunity.

“We’ve had a number of ideas put forward to us by a number of artists, and in the end, his were the most appealing,” Harner said.

Wolfe has sculpted for 40 years, is a fellow for the National Sculptor Society, and received first place for the National Sculpture Society’s 2014 Members Only Sculpture Com­pe­tition.

The design for the forth­coming statue of Dou­glass took the entire summer to finish as Wolfe sug­gested several vari­a­tions.

“We’ve gone back and forth on a number of pro­posals,” Harner explained. “They’re all sort of similar, but getting that last thing the way we want it…he’s working on it.”

A photo, obtained by the college in 2004, from Dou­glass’ first visit to Hillsdale in 1863 depicts the famed abo­li­tionist sitting in a chair.

The sculptor, however, worries the posture does not exude the mys­tique he hopes to convey with Dou­glass.

“He saw slavery as a shackling of a man’s mind as well as his body. He was there first hand,” Wolfe said. “I’ve read a little of him. He’s hard to read for me, but he seems pretty angry. If we could get him looking not angry, but we need a pose that’s not just looking like a toy soldier… I’m trying to bring to the college some movement, some humanity to the guy.”

Another “point of view” Wolfe has con­sidered is Dou­glass holding a piece of paper because of his writing.

“Body lan­guage in a statue is the only thing that shows a man’s per­son­ality,” Wolfe said.

The selection of a pose is made more dif­ficult than some of Wolfe’s other projects. Unlike when sculpting Thatcher – alive when Wolfe carved her, allowing him to expe­rience her “velvet fist” power in her presence – Wolfe must rely on old pho­tographs to depict Dou­glass’ clothing and face shape cor­rectly.

“It’s like a writer; you need some material to write from,” Wolfe explained. “To write some­thing inter­esting, you need some truth. That’s what I’m looking for: truth.”

The larger-than-life, approx­i­mately 7-feet statue will stand between Lane and Kendall across from Lincoln, com­pleting the Civil War section of the sculpture ini­tiative.

“We’ve always wanted to do a Dou­glass statue — since the Liberty Walk project was underway,” Harner said. “We’re excited about it.”

Its com­pletion next year coin­cides with the estab­lishment of a schol­arship that shares the abolitionist’s name.

“To try to get the Dou­glass statue done in time with the schol­arship program seemed to be a good aim,” Harner said.

According to Financial Aid Director and Student Records Rich Moeggenberg, the schol­arship targets under­priv­i­leged stu­dents from inner cities, fitting for Dou­glass who rose to promi­nence though born in the most dif­ficult of cir­cum­stances: in slavery.

“Dou­glass’ role in artic­u­lating the role of man’s nature that we are all created equal and in keeping with tenants on which the country was created” puts him amongst leaders such as Lincoln, Thomas Jef­ferson, and George Wash­ington, Harner said.

Even more so, however, the statue will rep­resent a part of the history of Hillsdale College.

“We’re a Civil War college; that’s front and center with us,” Harner said. “The key founding figures of the college were those friends of Lincoln who ended being the gov­ernor of the state of Michigan and lieu­tenant gov­ernors and gen­erals, and the service of our stu­dents in the war, Dou­glass speaking here…There’s a con­nection there.”

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Breana Noble
Breana Noble is The Collegian's Editor-in-Chief. She is a born and raised Michigander and studies politics and journalism. This summer, Breana interned in New York City at TheStreet, a business and finance news website. She has previously worked for The Detroit News, The American Spectator, and Newsmax Media. She eventually hopes to pursue a career in investigative journalism. email: bnoble1@hillsdale.edu | twitter: @RightandNoble