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Frederick Elliott Hart

 (1943 - 1999)
Frederick Elliott Hart was active/lived in District Of Columbia, Virginia.  Frederick Hart is known for commemorative figure sculpture.

Frederick Elliott Hart

Biography from the Archives of askART

Frederick Hart was a prominent late 20th century figurative sculptor. His view was that, "Art must touch our lives, our fears and cares; evoke our dreams and give hope to the darkness." He took the notion stated by playwright Tom Stoppard, who said "Modern art is innovation, without skill," and rejected this nihilism when developing the techniques that would earn him the title the "Rodin of our Century."

Beginning his life in Atlanta, and his career in Washington D.C., Hart was the epitome of the starving artist. He saw that he was spiritually descended by famed figurative masters such as August St. Gaudens and Daniel Chester French, but he failed to realize the fame these artists enjoyed. At Dupont Circle he could be found sculpting girlfriends, kids and buddies but not truly finding his calling. He became despondent with the lack of skill on the "modern" art scene, and more the notion that society had forgotten what it meant for something to be beautiful, timeless and everlasting.

Hart then discovered the Washington National Cathedral, the seventh largest cathedral in the world, and the only place in the world he could truly surround himself with the Italian master stone carvers that would make him the master. He carried tools, fetched coffee and finally ingratiated himself into the cadre of stone carvers, whose impermeable ranks were so hard to breach. The head master himself, Roger Morigi, a temperamental Italian, with a penchant for the "tough-love" way of teaching, took him as an apprentice.

In 1971, Hart found out about the competition for the commission of the sculpture to adorn the west facade of the cathedral with a sculpture based on creation. Hart inspired by the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin a French Jesuit theologian and philosopher who said that mankind is in a constant state of becoming conscious of itself. With this thought in mind he spent two and one-half years creating what became one of the most prominent religious sculpture of our day. Ex Nihilo (Out of Nothing), an eight figure larger than life swirling mass, which notoriously gained recent recognition as the subject of the lawsuit against the makers of the movie The Devil's Advocate, which Hart won. The sculpture was thirteen years in stone carving, and finally dedicated in 1982.

Hart created the six major sculptures on the West facade, giving him a similar historical place among masters such as Bernini, Michaelangelo and Rodin. Hart said, upon it's completion "my life's work is complete, my destiny fulfilled." Once complete Hart looked through the art journals and literary magazines for some mention of this masterwork, none came. Hart hoped he would find an article panning it, just to let him know that someone was watching figurative work. No one was.

Hart decided his sculpture was ignored because it was in the tradition of the old school, and therefore offered no new ideas. During this cycle, Hart heard about a commission to be awarded for the dedication of a new "Vietnam Veterans Memorial" to be placed on the Mall in front of the Washington Monument. The requisite element was that all 58,000 dead must be named. Hart entered a sculpture containing both a wall with the listed dead, as well as a medic running toward a wounded soldier. The board voting on the monument awarded the commission to a 21-year-old Yale University architecture student, Maya Ying Lin. Lin's design was a minimalist black granite wall, shiny, deeply cut into the Earth. This set off a series of debates that occupied the United States with bitter debate. The problem that veterans (and Hart) had with it was that it lacked a human face. How would such a wall translate to a society one hundred years from now? Once we are dead and gone, would it still have any impact, like the sculptures of civil war heroes? Vets called it the "great black gash of shame and sorrow." Hart simply called it "a telephone book listing of dead people".

Funding for the project was withheld until a suitable solution could be reached. The idea was proposed that a figurative element be placed near the monument, at its apex. Hart was given the commission, and altered the plan. Instead of placing his Three Servicemen at the apex, place them approximately 400 feet from the wall; looking, as one Vet said "for their own names." This satisfied both sides and quelled the debate.

In an interview, Hart mentioned that the monument is one of the hardest places for him to visit, because after absorbing all of the interviews with GI's, and the controversy surrounding the monument itself, he had to synthesize it into what it became, in his words "the most effective ensemble monument in the United States."

In the early 70's, after sculpting in stone (the stone age) and bronze (the bronze age), Hart turned his attention to light. He believed we were entering an age of enlightenment, "The age of Light". So he began developing the uses of clear acrylic resin, to "Sculpt in light". Harking back to the teachings of Chardin, and his vision of creation, Hart created a new legacy with his development of acrylic as a figurative media. The Children of Ex Nihilo were born. After releasing his first sculpture in the "Age of Light" collection, in 1984, Hart's vision became clearer and he began to realize the artistic and commercial success of his work.

Subsequent works, such as Memoir and Dance of Life experimented with imbedding one acrylic sculpture within another, which Hart then patented. The mystery of this technique still confounds viewers and technicians to this day. Through commercial success and public monuments, works for Pope John Paul II such as Cross of the Millennium, Hart still surprisingly enjoyed little critical acclaim.

On August 13, 1999 at the age of 55, Hart died of lung cancer that was diagnosed only two days before.

Reed V. Horth, Robin Rile Fine Art

Biography from the Archives of askART
A sculptor and stone cutter in the Classical* style, Frederick Hart was an apprentice at the National Cathedral in Washington DC and there learned about sculpting and stone cutting. Then his big break of public recognition came when he won a competition to design the facade of the Cathedral, which incorporated his thirteen year masterpiece of the Creation, a 21 X 15 foot bas relief*.  He also designed Three Soldiers, realistic in style, for the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in DC to contrast with the abstraction of Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in South Carolina, Frederick Hart was an opponent of most contemporary art, thinking it motivated by political rather than aesthetic reasons.  As a proponent of Realism*, he was made an honorary member of The American Society of Classical Realism Guild of Artists.

Just before his premature death from lung cancer in 1999, he built his 17,000 square-foot dream home "Chesley," on 250 acres of land in Virginia.  This mansion was intended to be an artists' retreat to nourish traditional, classical values and refute modernist* trends that he said allowed anything to be called art.

He endured several legal battles including the use of his Three Soldiers on a souvenir without his permission and a lawsuit with Time-Warner over the "demonizing" of his creation scene.

"Art and Antiques", October 1999

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary


Biography from Lahaina Galleries
Born in Atlanta, 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) [see photo right], 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 the book, "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 States.

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."

Biography from
American master sculptor Frederick Hart is recognized for creating work—at once traditional in its adherence to the human figure, radical in its sensuality, and innovative in its materials—which has brought about a resurgence of interest in the human figure and in the idea of beauty in contemporary American art. Michael Novak, author of Frederick Hart: Changing Tides, wrote in 2004, "The work of Frederick Hart is changing the world of art," vindicating the artist's strong belief that with the new century would come changing tides in the style, form, and direction of the arts.

Hart gained international stature for his The Creation Sculptures on the west façade of Washington National Cathedral, which include three typana Ex Nihilo (Out of Nothing), Creation of Day and Creation of Night, and three trumeau figures, St. Peter, St. Paul and Adam carved in Indiana limestone. The cathedral, located in Washington, D.C. is the sixth largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The works were commissioned in 1974, and dedicated between 1978 and 1984.

One of the most visited monuments in Washington, D.C. is Hart's heroic bronze statue Three Soldiers, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, dedicated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Hart is also represented in the U.S. Senate by the heroic marble statue of Senator Richard Russell in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building; the bronze bust of Senator Strom Thurmond, installed in the Strom Thurmond Room of the Capital Building; and the marble bust of J. Danforth Quayle created for the Senate's Vice Presidential Bust Collection.

Hart was also commissioned to create the James Earl Carter Presidential Statue in bronze installed at the Georgia State House, Atlanta. Hart pioneered the use of clear acrylic resin to create cast figurative sculptures. He patented the process by which one clear acrylic sculpture was embedded within another. In 1997, Hart presented a unique casting of The Cross of the Millennium to Pope John Paul II in a private ceremony at the Vatican in Rome. When it was unveiled Pope John Paul II called this sculpture "a profound theological statement for our day."

Frederick Hart was articulate in describing the passion and vision that drove him to create such works of beauty. He said, "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 past."

Hart was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States Government. The proclamation signed by President George W. Bush on November 17, 2004 states the following: "For his important body of work—including the Washington National Cathedral's Creation Sculptures and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial's Three Soldiers—which heralded a new age for contemporary public art." This distinction places him in the ranks of the most distinguished American artists of the twentieth century.

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About  Frederick Elliott Hart

Born:  1943 - Atlanta, Georgia
Died:   1999 - Washington District Of Columbia
Known for:  commemorative figure sculpture