Bringing history to life
Capturing Charles de Gaulle's naturally exaggerated features without making him look like a caricature was a challenge for Richard Pumphrey as he finished his seventh and final sculpture for the National D-Day Memorial.
De Gaulle was among four busts installed for the 66th anniversary of D-Day celebration June 6. Pumphrey, a professor of art at Lynchburg College, was commissioned to sculpt busts of seven top allied leaders during World War II: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President Harry S Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee (Churchill's successor), Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, and French leader Charles de Gaulle.
Each personality presented its own unique challenges. "De Gaulle's appearance is one of exaggeration," Pumphrey said. "Clement Atlee was an intellectual powerhouse. The challenge is to convey that in a visual form."
Pumphrey used gestures, expression, clothing, and texture to achieve the essence of each leader. He didn't include hats and glasses on the busts to avoid stereotyping and distracting from their faces. "A portrait bust is not just who it's of and the accessories of their dress, but what the 'who' is about," he said.
Finding photos that afforded 360-views of each leader's head was also difficult because images of political and state leaders were so tightly controlled in the 1940s. Unlike today, photographs of leaders in casual moments were rare.
The portraits Pumphrey sculpted give visitors to the memorial a visual referent to aid their understanding of the lessons and legacy of D-Day. In keeping with the memorial's sculpture program, all Pumphrey's pieces are 20 percent larger than life size.
Commenting on Pumphrey's sculptures, foundation President William A. McIntosh said, "This sculptor animates his subjects with a commanding mixture of energy, ferocity, and resolve that richly complements the other statuary at the memorial."
"This memorial is the result of the vision and leadership of a few who saw the need to commemorate the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of those who landed at Normandy, signaling the beginning of the end of WWII," Pumphrey said.
"Perhaps an underlying theme of this memorial is vision and leadership. Without the vision and leadership of the Allied leaders, there can be little doubt that western civilization as it was known up to that time would have perished. I am very proud to have been asked to give visual form to those visionary leaders."
Pumphrey has been an art professor at Lynchburg College for 25 years. He received his BA in art at Lynchburg College in 1974. In 1977, he earned his master of fine arts degree in sculpture from the University of Georgia. Elements of Art, authored by Pumphrey, is a design text for college students that reflects his insights into the universal principles of two- and three-dimensional design.
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