Though the Liberty Walk’s newest addition of James Madison now stands life-sized outside Delp Hall, he began as a 24 inch tall statue in the studio of Associate Professor of Art Anthony Frudakis.
The new statue was commissioned by Hillsdale President Larry Arnn and sculpted by Frudakis over the course of two years. Although the project was finished in April, the formal unveiling was pushed back to Sept. 22 after the college’s early closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I enjoy what is the essence of sculpture, which is shapes and forms and designing them,” Frudakis said. “Getting all those parts to work harmoniously is a good challenge.”
This sculpture is only one of the many Frudakis has created for the college. Before Madison, Frudakis designed the statue of Ronald Reagan in 2011, and as well as the statues of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Washington prior to him.
His passion for sculpture, however, dates even further back. Frudakis discovered his passion for sculpting during his college years, before which he had no plans to become involved in the arts. His father was a sculptor, his mother a painter, and his only previous experience came from lessons his father gave him as a child. He received his first professional commission in 1975.
“It was the most amazing and natural experience I’ve ever had,” Frudakis said of the first sculpting class he took in college. “On the basis of the strength and power of that experience sculpting in that class, I decided to dedicate myself to becoming a sculptor.”
To start this project, Frudakis first began researching the life and accomplishments of Madison to get to know him as a person and in order to create an accurate artistic depiction of him. Soon, he became an interrogator of Madison’s life.
Was Madison an extrovert or an introvert? Did he have a sense of humor? Was he feisty and fiery or cool or analytic? These were only a few of the questions Frudakis asked.
“I like the way he fought for his ideals, and I like his ability to do great things within the imperfect vessel of the body he was given,” Frudakis said, referring to the seizures Madison suffered from. “He was able to persevere and do incredible things.”
While Madison was about five feet five inches in life, his statue stands at a taller six foot feet three inches. Placed outside Delp Hall, he wears a cravat, a waistcoat, and a frock coat lined with buttons and ending at his knees. He holds his hands out in front of him, with one of them clutching a quill.
To junior Brandt Siegfried, the quill in Madison’s hand represents his role in writing the Constitution. Siegfried said that having the statues always present in the background contributes to the underlying assumptions of learning on campus.
“Madison was a great choice to add to the Liberty Walk,” Siegfried said. “I am so thankful to see us put up statues of people who are important and who have legitimately contributed to the plight of liberty in the course of American history.”
Frudakis’s creative process began with humble play sketches on paper depicting different ideas of what the statue of Madison could look like. Arnn chose the final design of the statue from Frudakis’s half dozen conceptual sketches. After receiving approval of a two-foot-tall imitation of the final product, Frudakis moved on to sculpting the full-sized piece, which was eventually finished at Michigan Art Castings foundry in Leslie, Michigan.
“A sculptor is challenged in a case like this by trying to represent a lifetime of work and accomplishments, a rich personality and powerful intellect, and boil it down into just one image,” Frudakis said.
Frudakis used portraits of Madison by artists such as Gilbert Stuart, who is known for his paintings of George Washington, as a reference in designing the statue.
Before working on the full-sized project, he created a scale model out of clay. After receiving approval on it, he had a plaster cast made and sent to a sculpture enlargement service in Minnesota. A large drill, directed by the scale model graphs on a CD, cut the statue out of foam. The next six months were spent shaping and scraping the foam and painting it with clay melted in a crockpot.
Once the foam was finished and returned to Michigan, Frudakis sent it to the foundry. The bronze was heated, poured into ceramic molds, and the different pieces were welded together. Finally, a blowtorch applied the patina, or color, to the statue. The deadline approached rapidly, Frudakis said, but the statue was complete in time for the previously scheduled spring unveiling.
“Tony Frudakis is a blessing to the campus,” Arnn said in an email. “He is a highly accomplished sculptor, and it is a great thing to have him teaching here. He does wonderful work.”
In the same email, Arnn recalled the first time he met Frudakis years ago, standing at the front of a long line of people waiting to meet Hillsdale’s new president. Arnn asked, “What would it take for you to do a bust of Churchill and Lincoln?” Frudakis replied, “You just did it.”
So began the Liberty Walk — the idea to arrange statues all around campus to tell both the story of the College and the United States.
Frudakis said the statue has great significance to him
personally.“I felt it was a very strong spiritual experience for me as an artist given the scale and complexity of the work,” Frudakis said. “In a way, I felt like a student being led.”