While sculpting the 7-foot-3-inch statue of Sen. J. William Fulbright for the University of Arkansas, Alexandria sculptor Gretta Bader studied the way he looked while doing something he had done with her often while he was alive - having a conversation.
"Your whole face changes when you're talking about something," Bader said.
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. Since Fulbright died in 1995, Bader, who often engages people in conversation to sculpt them, had to rely on photos. She based the sculpture on a photo of Fulbright that was taken in the 1960s, while he was talking to a reporter at the dedication of a dam.
"I wanted to do the figure of [Fulbright] in the 1960s," Bader said. "He was at the height of his powers."
The sculpture was dedicated at a ceremony Oct. 21 at the University of Arkansas, which included a speech by former President Clinton, who worked for Fulbright as an assistant clerk for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he was a college student. It stands 7 feet 3 inches because Bader thought that "a life-size figure would be too small."
"I wanted to convey to the students who were seeing this just what an intense and involved person he was," Bader said. "I hoped to give the feeling you could almost have a conversation with him."
Bader noted that whenever Fulbright was really engaged in a conversation, he would put his hands in his pockets. She decided to sculpt him that way to capture this characteristic and to make the piece "move" more.
Like Clinton, Bader knew Fulbright personally. Her husband, William Bader, is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Educational and Cultural Affairs and worked on Fulbright's staff. He also went to Germany on a Fulbright scholarship in 1953.
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 - her father ran the National Association of Housing and Urban Development Officials. Sometimes she would start listening passively and concentrating more on the piece, and 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.
She remembers that it took longer and longer to leave his office because of their conversations. They would argue about him writing his memoirs, something Bader was convinced he should do, which he never did.
BADER NEVER STARTS with sketches when she sculpts. She studies photographs of the subject before sculpting to get insight into the person's personality, and she takes Polaroids of the sculpture later on and compares them with the photographs. Having to work only from photos, as she did with this sculpture, is harder because it is not as spontaneous.
"Drawing and photographs are completely different art forms [from sculpture]," Bader said. "You're not seeing the drawing in the round, in space."
Bader majored in sculpture at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. She also went to an art academy in Munich, Germany, while her husband was there on a Fulbright scholarship. She did eight portrait busts for the National Building Museum as part of the Builders of America Series, as well as a portrait bust of Sam Ragan, a former poet laureate of North Carolina, for Barton College. Bader would often go to museums to study portrait busts when she was having trouble with her own work and found that she learned the most from the busts that she didn't like - she would just avoid doing whatever the sculptor had done.
"There are probably more portrait busts per mile in Washington, D.C., than anywhere in the world," Bader said.
She has taught figure sculpture and portrait bust for 15 years at the Art League. She also taught a class at Stanford University to a group of plastic surgeons.
"They were dynamite to teach, because they thought they knew everything about the head," Bader said.
One person who admires Bader's art is Patsy Ticer (D-30th) of the Virginia state Senate, 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.
Bader had met former President Clinton, who gave a speech about Fulbright at the ceremony, previously at receptions and at a White House dinner with the King of Morocco while Clinton was president.
"He is a charming man, very much engaged," Bader said of Clinton. "He likes people. It's very easy to talk to him."
Another famous person Bader knows is in her own family - her son, Karl Diedrich Bader, better known as Diedrich Bader, who plays Oswald on the “Drew Carey Show,” now in its eighth season. Sometimes, she said, being so well-known has been a problem, such as the time when Diedrich and his wife, actress Dulcy Rogers, were mobbed at the Parthenon in Rome. Most of the time, though, people who recognize him are respectful. While walking through the zoo with her son and his wife, Bader noticed that many people would turn around or stare, but that most left him alone. Occasionally, people would come up to him and ask for autographs or to have their pictures taken.
"It is a part of an actor's life," Bader said.
IT TOOK BADER ABOUT 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."