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Art pro­fessor Anthony Fru­dakis’ pro­totype of his James Madison statue.
Courtesy | Anthony Fru­dakis

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.”