From his corner-office window in Lane Hall, Gary Wolfram, the economics program director, can look down into Kresge Plaza and see a similar figure to his own: Abraham Lincoln.
While sculpting the 16th president of the United States for Hillsdale College’s Liberty Walk, Professor of Art Anthony Frudakis used Wolfram as his model for the statue, which was dedicated in 2009. Frudakis has a habit of borrowing bodies on campus as convenient models for such commissions.
“I thought it would be interesting to try it out,” Wolfram said. “How often do you get to model for something?”
Frudakis said he looked for a model for Lincoln, choosing Wolfram for his height and “Lincolnesque lankiness,” he said. His hands — which, besides Lincoln’s face, are the only parts not covered with clothing on the statue — were the focus, however, as Frudakis shaped the small-scale version of the 7-foot-tall statue.
“It really isn’t miniscule,” Frudakis said. “Hands are so expressive. We use our hands to talk all the time.”
Frudakis said he imagined Lincoln’s hands held behind his back as if he were holding a Bible. But he also said their position tells a story of the foundation of his presidency.
“Those hands symbolically represented the binding of the union — holding the union together — a bond he literally gave his life to uphold,” Frudakis said.
Wolfram said he visited Frudakis, who lives just more than a block from him, at his home studio. He didn’t have to do much, he said, but stand in Lincoln’s pose: his hands behind his back, head tilted slightly downward, and his right foot a bit forward.
But Frudakis, who said the commission gave him an excuse to read from Lincoln and about his character, said Wolfram brought more than his physique to the project.
“Like Lincoln, he’s a good storyteller,” Frudakis said. “He reinforced the spirit of Lincoln’s sense of humor and whit.”
It is common practice for sculptors to use models for their works, when the sculpture’s figure is not living. Frudakis also secured help from philosophy and religion department chairman Thomas Burke and Professor of History Emeritus John Willson while making Hillsdale’s George Washington statue. He said he also had students model for Thomas Jefferson, which he sculpted during the same time as Lincoln.
“Working from life can keep the work fresh and give a freshness to the work,” Frudakis said.
Structurally and aesthetically, basing a piece off a model can also offer solutions to artists, Frudakis said. Sometimes nature may even have a better composition, he said.
“It can be better than I had anticipated with more interesting design and with more beauty,” Frudakis said, adding, “with the exception of Gary.”
Finding models can be a challenge, however. Sometimes they are found in the oddest places.
California artist Bruce Wolfe was searching for a man approximately 6-feet, four-inches tall and 200 pounds to match the build of Frederick Douglass, who Wolfe is sculpting for the college and is expected to be unveiled at spring commencement. He found Joel Hart.
“We were at a soccer game of our granddaughter, and his daughter was playing on the opposing team,” Wolfe said. “I saw him and asked him if he would pose for a Frederick Douglass sculpture. He said sure and came over whenever he could, always bringing cake and goodies. He is a great guy and fun to be around.”
In addition to the model, Wolfe also used photos of the escaped slave-turned-abolitionist, who is believed to be the most-photographed person from the 19th century. Wolfe is now finishing the large clay sculpture to be cast for the final bronze piece.
He also sculpted Hillsdale’s Margaret Thatcher statue. She, however, was living at the time, making a model unnecessary, he said. He said meeting her allowed him to get a sense of her personality and character.
“She was a wonderful human being, I think,” Wolfe said. “She was strong and feminine. Some women have power, but yet, it’s in a gilded box; it’s in a velvet fist. She was that kind of person that had that quality. She knew exactly what she wanted to do. I think [in her statue] she looks assured, confident, at ease with herself.”
Wolfram said it was an honor to help with a project that memorializes Lincoln, an accomplished historical leader and thinker.
He added that Hillsdale is lucky to have several remarkable artists like Frudakis working for it.
Wolfram said he now enjoys looking out his window to see Lincoln, which he said he thinks is an incredible piece.
“But I didn’t check to see if I was in it,” Wolfram said.