Development and Creation of the Honor Guard Sculpture
Initial design plans for the Honor Guard sculpture called for granite, not bronze. It took the form of a low relief on the surface of a thick stone wall. Zenos’ first impression of this heavy, earth-bound idea was that it was antithetical to what the Air Force is and what it represents: an airborne combat force. He advised the Air Force Memorial Foundation that the subject of the Honor Guard would be better presented—and less expensive—if it were translated into bronze, explaining that bronze could be a much more exciting material for this sculpture. The play of light on bronze would convey the sense of motion in the figures even in stillness, the light flickering on the metal evoking a level of excitement intrinsic to the material. In addition, the metal, although not the same as that used in airplanes, would be more akin to aircraft than stone. To move the sculpture from stone to bronze was to shift it toward the realistic and away from the decorative concept of shallow surface carving on a massive piece of stone.
A further design complication occurred as the back of the stone relief repeated the wall behind it. Visitors could stand between these two walls, leaving the question of what to do with an otherwise blank wall confronting the public.
Zenos suggested that he create several sculptures for the Air Force Memorial Foundation showing the Honor Guard in 3 levels of relief – low, mezzo and high. While all relief sculpture presents figures against a solid background, low relief is sculpture lightly etched against this background, mezzo relief is a more boldly articulated sculpture, and high relief is the most generously formed sculpture against a supporting wall.
Releasing the sculptures from their wall entirely, Zenos also created one set of figures in the round -- one set of figures stood on their own without any background whatsoever. His intent was to show the Air Force Memorial Foundation that the sculptures looked better as they moved out of the wall and were best seen without any supporting wall. When the Board of Air Force Memorial Foundation subsequently chose the sculpture in the round to be developed further, the move from stone to bronze inevitably followed. Once the sculpture moved from bas-relief to sculpture in the round, granite would be impractical for carving the weapons, flags, and delicate and fragile battle streamers.
Before the 24-inch high figures were further developed, Zenos created a nine-inch high model in clay. The positioning of all figures was worked out in this size, as it was easier to make changes in this version than in subsequent larger sculptures. This small, rough model is called a maquette, the French word derived from the Italian macchietta, meaning sketch.
The Board approved the maquette, permitting Zenos to move forward with developing the 24-inch high Honor Guard figures in the round. While the 24-inch model was in progress, the Board held discussions about the final size of the work. While the Air Force Memorial Foundation wanted the Honor Guard sculpture to measure 6 feet in height, or life-size, Zenos pointed out that space and light appear to shrink sculpture placed outdoors, significantly diminishing the impact of the pieces in the large Memorial. He suggested that the sculpture be at least over life size, and the Board approved the creation of a nine-foot high model in clay. Zenos believed that increased height would work well in the space, adding dignity and decorum to the project.
A Change of Venue
The Marines found the newest Memorial to be too close to the Iwo Jima sculpture. The AFMF found a new site for its Memorial at the former Navy Annex. The highest land in the area, it seemed a more appropriate site for the Memorial.
A New Challenge
After the Board of Directors of the Air Force Memorial Foundation and architects James Ingo Freed and Kyle Johnson viewed Zenos’ nine-foot high clay models in progress at Laran Bronze Foundry in Chester, PA, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts indicated it would insist the sculpture be eight feet high with no base, flush with the ground. This commentary was unusual, as nearly all sculptures have a bronze base that rests on a stone base to assure their balance.
With the approval of the Board, Zenos started over, sculpting an Honor Guard sculpture eight feet high. Having had experience creating the small, intermediate and large models, the eight-foot high model developed quickly.
Flags and Battle Streamers
While Zenos worked on the eight-foot high version of the Honor Guard sculpture, the Board held discussions about the flags and battle streamers. Were real flags and battle streamers to be used with this sculpture, or were they to be sculpted in bronze? Zenos advocated for the flags and battle streamers to be sculpted in clay and cast in bronze; his thinking was that to do otherwise might make the Honor Guard figures appear to be elaborate flag-holders. He reasoned: Why stop at the flags? If the flags were to be real, why not the ceremonial weapons? Or the belts or hats?
The Air Force Memorial Foundation asked Zenos to join them in meeting with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Composed of seven members appointed by the President, the USCFA was established in 1910 to advise the government on architectural development in the District of Columbia. It is authorized to give recommendations on the location of statues, fountains and monuments in public space. Past members included landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., and artists D.C. French, Paul Manship and Frederick Hart.
The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts agreed that the flags and battle streamers should be bronze, and the Board authorized Zenos to sculpt them in clay. With the puzzle of how to sculpt them accurately, the process of learning about the battle streamers, what they are, what they represent, their importance to the Honor Guard, and their significance had begun.
The Air Force Ceremonial Departmental Flag is displayed with a set of campaign streamers, one to recognize each battle or campaign fought by the Air Force, beginning with the Mexican Expedition (1916-17). Campaign credits prior to 1947, when the Air Force was part of the Army, are also commemorated by streamers on the Army Ceremonial Flag. Each streamer carries the name of the battle and its date. The streamers are assembled on the pole with the earliest battle first. Each subsequent battle streamer is added so that the most recent battles appear toward the top of the group.