Sculpting realistically….in the eye of the beholder

April 30th, 2016

Sculpted Maynard Jackson


The real Maynard Jackson

      The sculpting of donors and famous people as recognizable images is not easy or inexpensive. It is so subjective that you may love the result and yet the family does not. Or vice versa.

Maynard H. Jackson, Jr. was mayor of Atlanta from 1974 though 1982 and then was elected to a 3rd term, 1990-1994. He was well liked then and history has so far maintained his reputation. So much so, that the International Terminal at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport was named for him in 2012.

In honor of that occasion, this sculpting was done by Fred Ajanogha.

Now, to me, the likeness is NOT very good, but the family was satisfied: “The artist did such a good job. His representation just seemed right at home, right down to the eyes. It was a great likeness, that seemed almost spooky at times.”

This is why sculpting of individuals is so tough to take on in honor of donors, or of donors’ family members. It’s a subjective thing. The person and their loved ones have to be happy with it. Yet, to me in this instance regarding Maynard’s image, only the hand on the chin is accurate.

Be careful if you devidence on a sculpting project. Use a realistic, tried and true sculptor. And avoid the “Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome”…..Meaning that just because everyone expects you to like it, doesn’t mean YOU have to like it. Be careful and be sure to see the clay modeling all along the way while there is still time to make changes.

You have not lived and learned until you have had the Mother of a deceased portraiture subject cry upon seeing the clay image, which I experienced early in my career with a university client of mine. The Mother hated the first clay model review that much. After (4) rounds of revisions, the situation did not improve. I was removed from supervising the sculpting phase. The foundry’s sculpting artist was replaced by a watercolor artist whom the Mother had found “in her neighborhood”. That new artist had always wanted to sculpt and this was her chance, I was told.  In the end, the final cast bronze piece arrived. The Mother HATED it and would not allow it to be used at all!

So be careful; interview artists well, and get lots of review moments for you, the subject, family members and/or the donor, all along the way. The process, done well, can be a long one and it is certainly the most expensive of choices to make in honoring folks with images. Commit to the best artist, the time-consuming process, and to the chance to steward the donor appropriately.

Written by Robin E. Williams

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