A museum director with whom I once worked told me the following story. While teaching art history at a college in Maine, she arranged for her students to take a class trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Some of the students had children. She encouraged her students to bring the kids along to see the museum. Many students had never traveled outside of Maine, and most had never before visited a museum.
The group moved through the Museum of Fine Arts with her guidance, at one point assembling at an exhibition hall presenting Egyptian art. She noticed one of the children, a little girl about five years old, crossing the gallery to join her mother who was with the group. The child passed in front of two large statues of an Egyptian king and queen. She glanced over at the sculptures and stopped. She stood facing them for a moment, unsure of herself. She then looked directly at them, curtseyed to the sculptures, and continued on her way.
The point of this story, the museum director told me, was that this little girl, too young to have attended public school, too young to have learned about the Egyptians or the significance of these particular works of art, nevertheless felt something while she was in their presence. She knew that these were representations of people, important people, and they needed to be addressed respectfully and acknowledged as such, which she did.
I recall the museum director’s story because I think it speaks to the power of art, especially the power of the human form in art. When we view any figurative art, we relate to the forms as human beings, from the most ancient art -- like the energetic cave paintings of horses and other animals in Southern France -- to the most current figurative works. Circling Rodin’s Burghers of Calais and “walking among them” as Rodin asked us to do, we feel the pathos of these men. If we do not know the history of this work we begin to ask questions. What were these men doing? Why are the posed as they are? Through answers to these questions, which then lead in turn to more questions, we begin to understand something more about the human condition. Like the little girl in the museum, we do not have to be highly educated to know that the human figure speaks to us because it is eternal, as ancient as the human race and as modern as each person living today.
Figurative art has the power to provide a presence to stand with the viewer. In the case of the Honor Guard, these figures convey a solemn and palliative presence, respectful of those whose lives have been sacrificed while offering solace for those who remain.
I am Rosalie Frudakis, Zenos Frudakis’ partner of 31 years in the studio sculpture business, and I am honored to share our journey of the creation of the National Air Force Memorial Honor Guard sculpture with you.