|"I believe that art has a moral
responsibility, that it must pursue something higher than
itself. Art must be a part of life. It must exist in the domain
of the common man. It must be an enriching, ennobling and vital
partner in the public pursuit of civilization. It should be a
majestic presence in everyday life just as it was in the
- Frederick Hart
Frederick Hart has been described as
America's greatest representational artist. He has gone completely
against the grain of the contemporary art world; substance and beauty
are the chief criteria of his work. "My work isn't art for art's
sake, it's about life. I have no patience with obscure or unintelligible
art - I want to be understood."
Born in Atlanta in 1943, the traditions of Southern country life have
remained with Frederick Hart long after his youthful years spent in
South Carolina. Continuing that tradition, in 1987 he built a country
home on 135 acres of open farmland and rolling hills in the Piedmont
region of northern Virginia. The estate, named Chesley in remembrance of
his late sister, epitomizes Hart's deeply held beliefs about beauty,
truth, tradition, and permanence. He frequently hosted gatherings of the
"Centerists," a group of artists, poets, philosophers, and
others who share his vision and seek to exchange ideas.
His lifestyle was a far cry from the young, aspiring artist who applied
for a job at the Washington National Cathedral in 1967 to learn the
skill of stone carving. Hart recalls, "The Cathedral became a
magical place for me, a place outside of this century. The wonderful
Italian stone carvers who worked there were the last of a generation, a
link back to the major American architectural works of the early 1900's,
to buildings like the Supreme Court, The Federal Triangle, and Grand
Central Station, as well as to the great American sculptors Augustus
Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French."
By 1971 Hart was ready to leave the Cathedral. For the next three years
he worked in his own unheated studio, "almost starving to
death" as he sketched his ideas for the Cathedral international
competition to commission the design for a series of
"Creation" sculptures for its main facade. Hart remembers,
"It was to be a contemporary idea of Creation, a vision of an
unfolding universe." Inspired by Pierre Tellhard de Chardin's
writings on science and theology, Hart envisioned a great allegorical
work which would evoke the heroic struggle for awakening and
consciousness. The selection committee for the Cathedral was impressed
with the power and vision of his scale model studies and in 1974 awarded
him the project. He was thirty-one.
The Creation Sculptures were completed in 1990, almost twenty years
after Hart began work on them. The central tympanum, Ex Nihilo Out of
Nothing, consists of eight larger-than-life-size figures emerging into
existence from a 21-by-15-foot "primordial cloud," as if from
a dream. Comments master carver Vincent Palumbo, who worked with Hart
for almost a decade, 'Rick is one of the greatest sculptors of classic
sculpture we have today or are going to have in the future. You can see
the expressions of these human bodies, the details he puts into them. I
felt like I was working on a live person coming out of the stone."
In addition to Ex Nihilo, The Creation Sculptures include The Creation
of Day, The Creation of Night, Adam, St. Peter, and St. Paul.
The statue of Three Soldiers which he created for the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial in the nation's capitol has in Hart's words, "a wholly
unnerving, enigmatic, existential quality which I think is very
appropriate for the Vietnam War." The fighting men portray the
veterans' bond of love and sacrifice and mutual devotion as they stare
at the wall, almost as if they are searching for their own names. The
artist expresses the concept behind his design:
"I see the wall as a kind of ocean, a sea of sacrifice that is
overwhelming and nearly incomprehensible in its sweep of names...I place
these figures upon the shore of that sea, gazing upon it, standing vigil
before it, reflecting the human face of it, the human heart." Cast
in bronze, this historic sculpture - now one of America's most famous
sculptures - was dedicated in November, 1984, at a major ceremony
attended by President Ronald Reagan and more than 100,000 veterans.
In a century marked by nihilism, abstraction, and deconstruction, Hart
exemplifies a returning tide to aesthetic and moral agendas embodied in
the great ages of art in the past. Both the Vietnam sculpture and his
Cathedral work are reflections of a humanist vision of art.
In 1985 President Reagan appointed Hart to a five-year term on the
Commission of Fine Arts, a seven-member committee that advises the U.S.
Government on matters pertaining the arts, and guides the architectural
development of the nation's capital. In 1987 Hart received the Henry
Hering Award from the National Sculpture Society for sculpture in an
architectural setting, shared with architect Philip Frohman (National
Cathedral work). In 1988 he was the recipient of the quadrennial
Presidential Design Excellence Award (Vietnam Memorial work).
Hart has used his celebrity to inveigh against the decline of moral and
aesthetic standards in contemporary art, and to propound his alternative
vision for a "great rebirth of art." That rebirth must begin,
Hart says, by rediscovering and renewing the "discarded
axioms" and forgotten standards of past art - such as that
"ancient trinity of truth, beauty, and goodness," and the idea
of art as "service to values and ideals it holds in greater esteem
than art itself."
In 1993 Frederick Hart received an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine
Arts from the University of South Carolina for his "ability to
create art that uplifts the human spirit, his commitment to the ideal
that art must renew its moral authority by rededicating itself to life,
his skill in creating works that compel attention as they embrace the
concerns of mankind, and his contributions to the rich cultural heritage
of our nation."
On January 24, 1996 a white Italian marble state of Richard B. Russell,
Jr. was unveiled in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building.
The new statue created by Hart over a two year period honors the
distinguished senator from Georgia who served from 1933 until his death
in 1971. Hart's latest contribution to our nation's capital stands as
the focal piece in the rotunda entrance of the building which was named
in honor of Senator Russell in 1972.
The artistic and historic importance of The Creation Sculptures, Three
Soldiers, and The Cross of the Millennium, a work in clear acrylic using
striking and unique techniques developed and patented by Hart, are
featured in Masters of American Sculpture: The Figurative Tradition from
the American Renaissance to the Millennium. Author Dr. Donald Martin
Reynolds is one of the foremost authorities on sculpture in the United
Comments J. Carter Brown, Director Emeritus of the National Gallery of
Art in Washington, D.C., "It is breathtaking to see an artist with
the technical abilities and devotion to craft of Frederick Hart combine
these gifts with an ability to go to the brink with them, but somehow to
keep the inner, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual force of the work
dominant." Brown and Tom Wolfe, author of many popular books
including The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities, are among the
noted American authors and historians who have written about Hart's
contributions to figurative sculpture in the definitive book Frederick
Hart, Sculptor published in 1994 by Hudson Hill Press. The book is now
in its fourth printing.
Hart's more intimate clear acrylic sculptures (he pioneered the use of
acrylics in figurative sculpture, a technique which he calls
"sculpting with light") are inventive and revolutionary;
physical and sensuous, yet spiritual; direct, yet spiritual; direct, yet
graceful and subtle. His figures are classic while his medium of clear
acrylic is most modern and technologically advanced.
In the tradition of the great Renaissance and baroque masters who have
presented works to the Pope for over 1000 years, Hart met Pope John Paul
II in May, 1997 at a private ceremony in the Papal study in Rome. In
celebration of the coming 2000 year anniversary of Christ's birth and to
honor the 50 years of his priesthood Hart presented The Cross of the
Millennium to Pope John Paul II who proclaimed, "This work
represents a profound theological statement for our day."
Frederick Hart worked in stone, bronze, marble and clear acrylic. The
body of work he has created over more than twenty years heralds a new
age for contemporary art, "one in which figurative beauty,
embodiment of values, and spiritual enlightenment are the ways in which
we measure significance."
Frederick Hart is survived by Lindy Hart and they are the parents of two
sons, Lain and Alexander.