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Local Sculptor has Fulbright Statue Dedicated

Gretta Bader studies photographs of subjects before sculpting

Sculpting a larger-than-life statue of J. William Fulbright gave Gretta Bader time and occasion to recall the senator as he was often in his life – engaged in conversation.

"Your whole face changes when you're talking about something," Bader said.

The statue that Bader, an Alexandria sculptor, created for the University of Arkansas was dedicated at an Oct. 21 ceremony. It stands 7 feet 3 inches because Bader thought that "a life-size figure would be too small."

This is Bader's third sculpture of the senator and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She also did a portrait bust of Fulbright for the Kennedy Center - which was going to be called the Fulbright Center before Kennedy was assassinated - and another portrait bust for the University of Arkansas in 1982, both of which were sculpted from life.

WHENEVER FULBRIGHT was really engaged in a conversation, Bader said, he would put his hands in his pockets. She decided to sculpt him that way to capture this characteristic.

While sculpting her portrait busts of Fulbright, Bader would often set up shop in the corner of his office, engaging Fulbright in conversation while she worked.

"I like working where people live or work, because they're relaxed," Bader said. "I don't have to entertain them."

The conversation was often about politics. Bader has always been interested in politics and comes from a politically oriented family. Sometimes she would start concentrating on the sculpture at the expense of her attention. Fulbright would stop talking and say, "You're not listening."

It usually takes five or six sittings for Bader to complete a sculpture, but with Fulbright, Bader said she wanted the process to last longer.

"He was possibly the brightest human being I've ever engaged in conversation," Bader said.

ONE ADMIRER of Bader's art is state Sen. Patsy Ticer (D-30th), a longtime friend of Bader's.

"I was impressed when she told me about [the Fulbright sculpture]," Ticer said. "It really is a wonderful honor for her to be selected."

Although Ticer did not attend the dedication ceremony and has not yet seen the sculpture, she said that if she goes down to Arkansas, seeing the sculpture is the first thing she will do.

"She is a tremendously talented artist," Ticer said. "I admire good art."

More than 2,000 people attended the dedication of the sculpture. Before the dedication, the University held a symposium on German-American relations.

"The hope was that you would emphasize Fulbright's intense interest in education and the clear impact he had internationally," Bader said.

IT TOOK BADER between six to eight months to finish the sculpture for the University of Arkansas and another year to get it cast. Because of the size of the piece, she needed to use scaffolding, ladders and assistants.

"The intensity of doing a piece of this size is daunting," Bader said.

She isn't sure whom she's going to sculpt next, but she would like to hire some models and just play around in the studio. Whoever she sculpts next, though, will probably not be as fascinating as Fulbright.

"[Fulbright was] always a wonderful, warm, intelligent human being," Bader said. "I enjoyed his intensity. ... You really had to be on your toes."