Thursday, April 10, 2014

World Renowned Sculptor Martin Dawe on President FDR, Sister Nikki, and the Art Form

Christal Cooper – 1,625 Words



On April 10, 1945 President Roosevelt had his secret service men drive him to Pine Mountain, on top of Dowdell’s Knob, and leave him there in solitude. 

Dowdell’s Knob is the rock outcropping overlooking Pine Mountain Valley’s 14,000 acres.  It is located in the middle of FDR State Park, which is, at 9,047 acres, the largest state park in Georgia. 

Here on this bluff Roosevelt would picnic with other polio victims, his family, friends, and his secret service agents.   This was also the place Roosevelt chose to savor Pine Mountain’s green beauty and meditate.      

“Just imagine what this man was thinking; up there with the view that’s pretty much the exact same today. He knows what’s going on.  He knows about all the lives of the allies being lost.  It almost boggles the mind.  His health had been failing for several months.   He was real hollow looking.  He was dealing with a body that was shutting down on him.  I think he had a sense of what that meant.” Sculptor Martin Dawe said. 

Two to three hours later, Roosevelt honked his horn, a signal for his men to come back.  He died two days later of a cerebral hemorrhage.

On April 12, 2007, a ceremony was held at FDR State Park in Pine Mountain, Georgia to unveil Dawe’s statue of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the only statue that accurately depicts his polio condition, from the car seat he sat in to the braces he wore.   

         This is a not only an accurate and historical memory of Roosevelt, but the three-dimensional-image Dawe saw in his mind:  the six-foot-two president with his 12 foot sized shoes, sitting on a car seat that had been removed from the car, his legs crossed, and his accurately depicted leg braces. 

This image, just like history, depicts Roosevelt looking across Pine Mountain; his braces worn on the outside of his pants, like he would do in private, but never in public. 

It is also an interaction art, where the person can participate in the art form by sitting next to FDR, in his grandfatherly comfort, on the roadster seat.
     “It only seemed fitting that he’d be seated in his car seat.  I wanted the statue to be interactive with other people, especially the downtrodden since he identified with them and helped them with his numerous programs.”

         Dawe, 51, thinks of his older sister Nikki, who died of breast cancer in 2002 at 51.  Maybe she is not sitting next to Roosevelt, but instead, is leaning over his shoulder whispering into his ear, “I understand what you’re going through.”

Dawe, along with his sister, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa to parents who served in the Royal Navy.  A crewmember from a ship docked in the area had polio and unfortunately infected other people in the area –one of whom was three-year-old Nikki Dawe. 

At that time, in 1954, all persons with polio were confined to a three-month quarantine without any contact with family members.  Dawe said his father remembers visiting the main gate of the hospital where his daughter was quarantined and leaving her a toy or a stuffed animal.

         “He told me it is the worst thing he ever had to go through.  She was the idyllic happy little girl and then the next day this very angry, scarred little girl.  She never got over it.”

         The hospital staff told Dawe’s father that she was very angry and would not stay in her bed.  The staff and the family both believe that anger prevented her from getting into the mature stages of polio, thus saving her.  Nikki later became a nurse.

         “My sister was strong and compassionate.  The thing that amazes me about her is when she got cancer the second time and went through four years of chemotherapy she never complained.  She never said anything negative and always played up the positive.”   

         The Dawe family moved to Maplewood, New Jersey, ten miles from Manhattan, where Nikki graduated from high school and Dawe realized, as a child, that he was bound for a career in art.  

     His first drawing was of President Abraham Lincoln.  His first sculpture was when he was sixteen, of a Roman man, that he described as “terrible” and displays it in his studio.

After graduation from high school, he attended the University of Main for two years.  He then studied at Boston University of Fine Arts, and after two years, it was suggested he attend a more challenging art school.  He studied Fine Arts in Sculpture, and earned his bachelor’s of fine arts in sculpting from Georgia State University. 

For the next eight years he apprenticed under great sculptor Julian Harris, who died eight years later at the age of 80.  Harris, whom Dawe described as grandfatherly, taught him everything he knew about sculpting, which was enormous, but did not include the latest technology.  Dawe was able to use the modern day technology when he did his first commissioned piece in the early 1980s.
“It was for about $1500.  Julian didn’t do small commissions like that so he told me to take it and go for it.  It was the Naismith Trophy, a polished bronze figure given to the top collegiate male and female players, annually since 1980.”        

It was in Atlanta, after working five years as a sculptor full time, that Nikki gave him the greatest compliment. 

     “She was really kind of cocky about my sculpting work. She finally said,  ‘I didn’t think you were very good, but you’ve gotten better; you’ve gotten really better.’”
      In the early years, even though Dawe was sculpting, he worked three jobs to make ends meet.  He waited tables, refurbished houses, and did prop work.  Dawe doesn’t take all of the credit of his success but is gracious to his parents, who helped him financially through the years.

In 1987, Dawe started his own custom sculpture studio in Atlanta, Georgia, and four years later christened it CherryLion. The idea came from a cast stone lion’s head hanging on the door and then a friend of Dawe’s stuffing carved-wooden-cherries in the lion’s mouth.

CherryLion Studios is located in Atlanta, Georgia on an isolated street, where just the tip of the Atlantic skyline can be seen.  Here Dawe and his staff work endless hours in the 6000 square foot of open space, with a section consisting of a bathroom, kitchen, loft and bed.  

And it was here that he received the news that he dreaded:  Nikki had been in a coma and the family said she wouldn’t live much longer.  Dawe immediately flew from Atlanta to New Jersey to be by her side.

         “I went and sat by her in the bed.  Her eyes didn’t move, open, or anything.  She was having great difficulty breathing.  I almost didn’t recognize her. She kind of turned her head towards me a little bit and she pulled her lips back and smiled at me. She died about thirty minutes later.  She did wait for me.  I was the last one to get there.  All seven of us were together with three or four friends.”   

         Right after Nikki’s death, Dawe was asked by FDR State Park to submit an idea along with other sculptors and received the commission to do a bronze life statue of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

In order to accomplish this great task took intense and strenuous research, work, and thought.   Being a sculptor requires a great knowledge of physics, geometry, biology, anatomy, computer programming, as well as the art form.  But in addition, being an expert sculptor requires one to have the ability to see things in three-dimension within his mind. 

First he has the image – the three dimensional image in his brain and then he places it in the computer, changing head angles, hand placements, and which legs to cross.  Also included in the computer graphics is the place that the statue is to be placed.  The next step, intense research.   

“I had to know what he looked like inside and out.  I’m not the kind of sculptor that wants a dry mannequin life casting.  It’s about capturing an essence not just a physical outside.  The main thing was just watching every video and DVD that I could get my hands on that showed him in different ages and different lights and different positions.”

He also read Newsweek Senior Editor’s Jonathan Alter’s “The Defining Moment – FDR’S Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope.”  During the middle of sculpting the piece Dawe went to one of Alter’s lectures, where his main lecture theme was on how Roosevelt changed. 

“It was a positive that he took his disability and made it part of his personality that people could relate to.  When he found out he had total loss of his legs, he managed to find this incredible strength inside of him (which) helped change America.   The actual dollars weren’t there but the attitude changed which eventually changed the financial situation.” 

         Finally came the building of the armature, the actual skeleton of the statue consisting of plywood, heavy wire, and other material. 

Then the clay is placed over the armature and formed into life within the sculptor’s hands.  The clay must be kept wet with water and covered in plastic bags to retain the moisture. 

The statue is then sent to a foundry where it is cast in bronze, approximately ¼ inch thick throughout.  During this process the original clay statue is destroyed. 

Presently, Dawe is sculpting six clay figures, and has 23 commissions to complete.            

         “ I am doing something I absolutely love.  For me it’s about being able to create form.  Three-dimension, it’s godlike in a way.  You’re creating life.  I love life.  I find life inspiring.”

Photo Description and Copyright Info

Photo 1 and 3
Description:  FDR in Warm Springs, Georgia, 1930.
Credit:  Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

Photo 2
Dowdell’s Knob in FDR State Park.
CCCCO 1.0 Universal Public Domian.

Photo 4
Scultptor Martin Dawe. 
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe

Photo 5
President Roosevelt’s favorite spot for a news conference in Warm Springs, Georiga on March 23, 1937

Photo 6
Martin Dawe, Paul Nelson, Dan White, Ronnie Eakins, Abit Massey, Don McGhee, Dr. Toby Raper, Jody Rice and David M. Burke  Photo Credit: DNR
Phto 7
Martin Dawe sculpting a Maquetter.
Attrrbuted to David Burk

Photo 8
Sculpture of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Martin Dawe.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

Photo 9
Martin Dawe seated with his parents necxt to the statue.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

Photo 10
Nikki the nurse.

Photo 11
Child with a deformity of her right leg due to polio
Attributed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Public Domain.

Photo 12
Father Dawe kissing Nikki.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

Photo 13
Nikki and her dad.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe

Photo 14
Nikki as a nurse
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

Photo 15
Nikki on a fishing trip.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe

Photo 16
Martin at the beach.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe

Photo 17
Bronze of Abraham Lincoln $4,000
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe

Photo 21
Polished bronze 1980
Given annualy to top collegiate male and female basketball players.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

Photo 22
Martin Dawe and his mother.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

Photo 23
Cast stone lion’s head at Cherry Lion studios.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

Photo 24
Cherry Lion studios
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

Photo 25
Martin Dawe far left, with family members, including Nikki Dawe far right.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

Photo 26.
FDR State Park in Pine Mountain, Georgia.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.

Photo 27
Martin Dawe with head busts, one of which is of President Franklin Delano Rossevelt, far right.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

Photo 28.
Only one of two known photographs of FDR in wheelchair.  FDR with Ruthie Bie and dog Fala at Hilltop Cottage in Hyde Park.
Credit:  Franklin D Roosevelt Library.

Photo 29
Credit:  Franklin D Roosevelt Library.

Photo 30
Jacket cover of  “The Defining Moment:  FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triump[h of Hope”
Simon & Schuster May 8, 2007

Photo 31
Jonathan Alter at the 2013 Texas Book Festeval in Autsitn.
October 26, 2013
Atributed to larry D Moore
CCASA 3.0 Unported License.

Photo 32A, 32B, 32C, 32D, 32E, 32F, 32G
The step by step process of Martin Dawe creating the FDR Scultpure.
Copyright granted by Martin Dawe.

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