Frederick Hart (sculptor)

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Frederick Hart
Born Frederick Elliott Hart
June 7, 1943
Atlanta, Georgia
Died August 13, 1999(1999-08-13) (aged 56)
Baltimore, Maryland
Nationality American
Education 1967 apprenticeship, Washington National Cathedral
Known for Sculpture
Notable work The Creation, Washington National Cathedral
The Three Soldiers, Vietnam Memorial
Movement Realism (visual arts)
Awards National Medal of Arts, 2004;
Presidential Award for Design Excellence: Vietnam Memorial, 1988;
Gold Line Congressional Tribute, 1999;
Henry Hering Award, National Sculpture Society, 1987

Frederick Elliott Hart (June 7, 1943 in Atlanta, Georgia – August 13, 1999 in Baltimore, Maryland) was an American sculptor whose work recalls the figurative tradition of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hart studied at the University of South Carolina, the Corcoran School of Art, and American University without receiving a degree.[1] A convert to Catholicism, Hart's work often conveys sensuousness joined with religiosity. In his later career, he created female nudes from cast acrylic resin in a process that he patented.[2]


Early life[edit]

Hart was born in Atlanta, Georgia to Joanna Elliott (an unsuccessful actress) and Frederick William Hart, who served in the United States Navy during World War II. His older brother, Frederick William, died as an infant.[3] The Hart family was Presbyterian.[4] His mother contracted scarlet fever and died in 1945 when Frederick was two; he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother and aunt in South Carolina. His father married Myrtis Mildred Hailey in 1947 after being discharged by the Navy, and the family returned to Atlanta, where his father worked as a newspaper reporter. Half-sister Chesley Hart was born in 1949 and brother and sister became close. The Hart family moved to Virginia, near Washington, D.C., in 1956. Young Hart loved to read but had no interest in school. After failing ninth grade, he was sent to South Carolina to live with his Aunt Essie and repeat the year. The principal challenged him to take the A.C.T. to show how little he knew. After achieving a near-perfect score, the principal helped the sixteen-year-old Hart apply and gain admission to the University of South Carolina in 1959. After a short time at South Carolina, Hart participated in a 1961 protest during the Civil Rights Movement with black students. He was arrested, jailed, and kicked out of school. When informed that the Ku Klux Klan was looking for him, he moved to Washington, D.C. In 1965, his sister Chesley was diagnosed with leukemia, and she died the next year. While grieving for his sister, Hart "stumble[d] into a sculpture class at the Corcoran School of Art and [was] blown away."[3]


Hart worked briefly at the Giorgio Gianetti Architectural Plaster Studio in 1966, and assisted sculptor Felix de Weldon before taking a job as a mail clerk at the Washington National Cathedral, where he convinced master stone carver Roger Morigi to offer him an apprenticeship in stone carving.[3] His 1969 work titled, Family expressed his feelings about Chesley's premature death at age 16. Within five years, he achieved the title of stone carver.

In 1975 Hart won the design competition for an ensemble of sculptures dramatizing the creation story for the facade of the cathedral. The central tympanum, titled Ex Nihilo, or Out of Nothing, represents human figures emerging out of chaos. Hart also designed the two flanking tympana for the facade, Creation of Day and Creation of Night, and statues of St. Paul, St. Peter, and Adam.[5] Hart was the sculptor of the statue The Three Soldiers (also known as The Servicemen), a controversial addition to Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Hart became involved in two lawsuits concerning his work, including a suit he filed accusing Warner Brothers and Time Warner of copyright infringement for the appropriation of Ex Nihilo in the 1997 film The Devil's Advocate; the suit was settled out of court.[6][7] Hart claimed the film's sculpture infringed on his rights under copyright laws.[8] After a federal judge ruled that the film's video release would be delayed until the case went to trial unless a settlement was reached, Warner Bros. agreed to edit the scene for future releases and to attach stickers to unedited videotapes to indicate there was no relation between the sculpture in the film and Hart's work.[9]

Personal life[edit]

After being awarded the cathedral commission, Hart did much of his work at night, and spent afternoons near Dupont Circle drinking coffee, debating issues and flirting. One day, a beautiful woman caught his eye, and he began to look for her every day. Finally, he introduced himself, and asked her to pose for the figure of Woman in Ex Nihilo. She agreed, and became a recurring figure in Hart's work for the rest of his career.[4][10] He married Lindy Lain on December 1, 1978 in a civil ceremony; first son Frederick Lain Hart was born June 21, 1980, and second son Alexander Thaddeus Hart was born January 7, 1983.[3][11]

While doing research for the cathedral project, Hart studied the Book of Genesis and the story of the Creation for inspiration. Tom Wolfe suggests that Hart fell in love with God. Hart became a Roman Catholic and regarded his talent as a gift from God.[4] On June 2, 1980, Frederick and Lindy Hart's marriage was blessed at the Saint Matthew’s Cathedral.[3]

Hart died in 1999, two days after doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital diagnosed him with lung cancer.[12]

Resin sculpture[edit]

Hart pioneered the use of clear acrylic resin to create cast figurative sculptures. He patented a process in which one clear acrylic sculpture was embedded within another.[13] In 1997, Hart presented a unique casting called The Cross of the Millennium to Pope John Paul II in a private ceremony at the Vatican in Rome. When it was unveiled Pope John Paul II called this sculpture “a profound theological statement for our day.”

Hart said, “I believe that art has a moral responsibility, that it must pursue something higher than itself. Art must be a part of life. It must exist in the domain of the common man. It must be an enriching, ennobling, and vital partner in the public pursuit of civilization. It should be a majestic presence in everyday life just as it was in the past.”

Michael Novak, author of Frederick Hart: Changing Tides, wrote in 2004, “The work of Frederick Hart is changing the world of art,”[14] referring to the artist’s conviction that the new century would bring changes to the style, form, and direction of the arts.


In 2004, Hart was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government. The proclamation, signed by President George W. Bush, states: “For his important body of work—including the Washington National Cathedral's Creation Sculptures and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial's Three Soldiers—which heralded a new age for contemporary public art.” Harts was awarded an honorary degree from the University of South Carolina and received the Henry Hering Award of the National Sculpture Society in 1987 and Presidential Design Excellence Award in 1988. He was a member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts from 1985 to 1989.[15]

Classic traditions – Centerists[edit]

Hart's work contrasted with the Modernist and Post-Modernist art movements which dominated the 20th century. He championed the realistic representation of the human form, and believed in the moral responsibility of the artist. His works reflected classic art traditions, but he worked in new materials made possible by modern technology.

In his last years he became the center of a group of like-minded artists, poets and philosophers, who called themselves the Centerists. The Centerists were determined to return art to a figural, pre-Modernist aesthetic.[4]

In a memorial tribute to the sculptor at the Senate, Reverend Stephen Happel said, "The [National Cathedral] facade sculptures reach out from the center to the edges of day and night and extend themselves into the city and our world. They proselytize; they preach; they evangelize about how the world could be if values of beauty and truth were embraced."[16]


  • "Art must touch our lives, our fears and cares – evoke our dreams and give hope to the darkness."
  • "It's like touching hands with a generation that is no more." (about apprenticeship with master stone carvers)
  • "It was a feeling of fulfilling my destiny." (winning the Creation commission)

Notable works[edit]


Awards and accolades[edit]

  • Hart was awarded a patent for inventing a unique process of embedding one acrylic sculpture within another.[13]
  • In 1985 President Ronald Reagan appointed Hart to a five-year term on the Commission of Fine Arts, a seven-member committee that advises the U.S. Government on matters pertaining the arts, and guides the architectural development of the nation's capital.
  • In 1987 Hart received the Henry Hering Award from the National Sculpture Society for sculpture in an architectural setting, shared with architect Philip Frohman (National Cathedral work).
  • In 1988 he was the recipient of the quadrennial Presidential Design Excellence Award (Vietnam Memorial work).
  • In 1993 Hart received an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from the University of South Carolina[11] for his "ability to create art that uplifts the human spirit, his commitment to the ideal that art must renew its moral authority by rededicating itself to life, his skill in creating works that compel attention as they embrace the concerns of mankind, and his contributions to the rich cultural heritage of our nation."
  • In 1998 he receives the first annual Newington-Cropsey Foundation Award for Excellence in the Arts.
  • In 2004 Hart was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States Government.
  • In 2005 Songs of Grace is installed in the permanent collection at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The work is received by Museum Director Mikhail Piotrovsky as a gift from the American people. In the official acceptance speech the director notes that this work is important in that it signifies their desire to establish a 20th-century collection.
  • In 2008 the premiere of the ballet, Between Stillness, inspired by the sculpture, Ex Nihilo, is conceived and staged by the University of Louisville and the Louisville Ballet, Louisville, Kentucky.
  • In 2008 the monograph, Frederick Hart, The Complete Works, Butler Books, Publisher, is awarded a silver medal in the National Fine Art Category by Independent Publisher Book Awards.
  • In 2008 he Midwest Book Review offers an impressive endorsement of the monograph stating, “No academic university, 20th Century art or American sculpture collection can be considered comprehensive without the inclusion of the Butler Books' superbly published edition of Frederick Hart: The Complete Works! – Reviewed by Michael J. Carson. Volume 7, Number 11, November 2007.
  • In September 2008 Ex Nihilo, Fragment No.8 is installed at the Lightner Museum in Saint Augustine, Florida.


  1. ^ Irvin Molotsky, "Frederick Hart, 56, Designer of Vietnam Statue," New York Times (August 17, 1999): C2.
  2. ^ Richard, Paul (August 20, 2000). "Frederick Hart's Heavenly Bodies". G1. Washington Post. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Frederick Hart". The Hart Collection. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d Wolfe, Thomas E. (January 2, 2000). "The Lives they Lived: Frederick Hart". New York Times. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  5. ^ Barbara Matusow, "The Passion of Frederick Hart," Washingtonian' (November 1998): 54+.
  6. ^ Moreno, Sylvia (February 14, 1998). "Studio Settles Suit Brought by Sculptor". M1. Washington Post. 
  7. ^ Ordonez, Jennifer (December 28, 1997). "Portrait of the Artist as a Successful Man". 15. Fauquier News/Loudon Extra. 
  8. ^ "The Devil's Advocate". Archived from the original on 2010-12-26. Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  9. ^ "Movie studio settles claim over copyrighted sculpture". Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. February 23, 1998. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 
  10. ^ "Lindy Lain, soon to be Lindy Hart, modeling for Ex Nihilo". Retrieved 5 January 2015. 
  11. ^ a b "Hart Bronze". Angela King Gallery. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 
  12. ^ The Lives They Lived: Frederick Hart, New York Times; January 2, 2000
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ Michael Novak,Frederick Hart: Changing Tides, 2005, Hudson Hills Press
  15. ^ Thomas E. Luebke, ed., Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (Washington, D.C.: United States Commission of Fine Arts, 2013).
  16. ^ "Memorial to Frederick Hart". Library of Congress. 


External links[edit]