Mares: Meeting Frank Gaylord
In researching a book about war memorials and monuments, I was both pleased and gratified to meet Frank Gaylord, the 89-year-old sculptor of the figures in the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. It was an honor to shake the hand that had carved those ghostly soldiers, and many more noteworthy statues besides.
Gaylord now lives in a Williamstown, Vermont retirement home, surrounded by photos of his sculpture, members of his family and a small selection of abstract drawings. His eyesight is failing and he's wearing two hearing aids, but his grip is firm, his manner welcoming and his voice still has the strong twang of the West Virginia mountains where he grew up.
As a paratrooper in World War Two, Gaylord fought at the Battle of the Bulge where he won a Bronze Star. After the war, he went to college on the G.I. Bill and fell in love with sculpture. He says "It was thrilling to carve something permanent."
The desire to work in granite brought him to Barre in 1951 where he served apprenticeships with several companies, as stonecutter, carver, sculptor and designer. He says the work was repetitive, but necessary. Then, in 1957 he set up his own studio, which freed him to do more interpretive work. He also became an influential mentor to other aspiring sculptors.
With a touch of gallows humor, Gaylord said he became "a kind of vulture. " Upon hearing of some notable person being ill, or having died, he sometimes sent preliminary drawings of a proposed sculpture to the family. And once he not only carved a deceased man as a hunter, but persuaded the family to put the sculpture atop the man's favorite hill, instead of in the cemetery.
Gaylord’s favorite sculptor is Auguste Rodin, whose works like "The Thinker" and "The Burghers of Calais" influenced Gaylord’s realistic renderings of Arthur Fiedler, Calvin Coolidge, Thomas Chittenden, Ella Grasso, Vince Lombardi and others. In 2003 Gaylord received the Vermont Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts for lifetime achievement.
And he hasn't been shy about protecting his own interests. He took on the U.S. Postal Service about sharing the income from a stamp of his Korean War figures. He won. He also lobbied hard to get his Vince Lombardi sculpture into the Football Hall of Fame. But this time, he lost.
To make each of the 19 figures in the Korean War memorial distinct, he dressed a model in military gear – complete with poncho. A large fan made the poncho flare and he photographed a variety of poses. From these he made plaster models first, then the final sculpture. For the faces he drew on a number of sources including some of his fellow soldiers in World War Two.
When asked why he turned to public sculpture from gravestones, his answer was simple. "In a cemetery your work was seen by perhaps six people twice a year," he said. But in a public space like the Washington Mall, his audience could be thousands, in just a single day!