Sculpting the Honor Guard
In Zenos’ original proposal to the Air Force Memorial Foundation, he requested that the treatment of the sculpture be sketchy, with a loosely handled surface to the figures, considering the sculpture in a more painterly manner.
Referencing sculpture by Daniel Chester French, who created the Lincoln Memorial, and Augustus St. Gaudens, who created the Adams and Shaw Memorials, Zenos remarked that details present in many successful sculptures yielded to the forms and actions of the figures; details were not a focus. He noted that fashion changes, and in several decades the Honor Guard uniform would also change in appearance, perhaps making the sculpture appear dated.
The Board approved this sketch-like approach to the sculpture. As members of the 11th Wings of Bolling Air Force Base’s Air Force Honor Guard began their studio visits, the approach to the treatment of the sculpture changed radically. Reviewing the sculptures as they would fellow Airmen, the Honor Guard specialists politely noted lists of changes amounting to between and one and three pages of revisions to the sculpture per visit. These lists were confirmed in writing between the studio and the Air Force Memorial Foundation, and the changes were made. These included slight changes in the position of the feet, the relationship of the figures to each other, the positioning of the hands on the ceremonial weapons and in relationship to the bodies of the figures, the positioning of the heads, necks, arms and legs of the figures, their eyes and ears, and an entire cornucopia of details we thought were perfect, but that we had missed by a hair. After each visit, several e-mail exchanges invariably took place to double-check or confirm aspects of the Honor Guard.
Subsequent visits focused more and more on details, moving the sculpture to the complete opposite of its original sketch-like design. Measurements were taken by eye, finger-widths, referral to photographs of the Honor Guard lining the studio walls, and by rulers, with accuracy reaching the smallest fractions of an inch. The Honor Guard specialists shared every device they employed to ensure the precision of measurements for positioning of clothing, ties, medals, buttons, shoes, straps, belts, accessories, the flags, and the ceremonial weapons.
Some of the notes taken and changes made included moving the spade-shape on top of the flag-pole so it was visible from the front view; making one single break in the pants as they hit the shoe; measuring one-half-inch from the bottom of the pocket and placing the medals there; placing the round “cookie” badges ˝ inch beneath these medals; making sure the chin strap was right on the edge of the chin and the buckle on each facing to the right; removing dimples in the ties and moving them as high as they could get; and spacing the belt one thumb-width on each side of the belt loops and centering it between the two buttons on the jacket.
Patient throughout the many visits and reviews, at one point Zenos asked the specialists to remember that he was a sculptor and not a tailor. As the sculpture grew more and more precise in every aspect, resulting from the collaboration of sculptor and Honor Guard specialists, it came into focus and matured to completion.
In order to have non-tiring, non-moving models consistently available to wear uniforms, male and female mannequins acquired by the studio were dressed in Honor Guard uniforms borrowed from the Air Force Memorial Foundation. These uniforms were adjusted during each studio visit by Air Force Honor Guard specialists who restored belts, medals, buttons and accessories to their accurate positions.
Zenos used the mannequins to wear the uniforms so he would not wear out his live models. He did not aspire to have his sculptures resemble them, as he was after a sense of life in the figures. Using mannequins allowed him to focus on the uniforms without exhausting models so he could use his live models to instill a sense of life in the sculptures.
As development of the sculpture moved forward, the Air Force Memorial Foundation lent the studio flags and a set of battle streamers for Zenos to study and review throughout the process of creating these objects in clay.
The sculptures became so detailed that upon what was hoped to be the final review and approval of the sculpture, the shoelaces of the sculptures were found to be crossed incorrectly. The shoelaces had to be re-sculpted to show the lead shoelace crossing from the airman’s left to his/her right, and the sculptures required an additional review before final Board approval was granted.
Throughout the process of creating the Honor Guard sculpture, Zenos produced other commissioned work. One of these works contained some similarities to the Honor Guard sculpture, and many more differences. Freedom, a series of four over-life size, sketchy figures in various stages of escaping from a bronze wall, was commissioned by Liberty Property Trust for GlaxoSmithKline World Headquarters in Philadelphia. At one point, with the sculptures standing on opposite sides of the studio, it was not difficult to relate the Freedom to the Honor Guard sculpture, comparing and contrasting them, the first in various degrees of motion, the second completely static. Zenos was committed to making the standing figures of the Honor Guard sculpture as full of life as possible for stationary figures.