"All those who see me, and all who believe in me, share in the freedom I feel when I fly."
Standing just in front of the entrance to the March Air Museum in Riverside California is a bronze statue of a woman pilot. It is the first in what is hoped to be several such statues comprising a Women Aviators Sculptor Patio.
Warbird sculptor Robert Hendrickson will be bringing the sculptures to life. (Check out his websites at sky-ladies.com and warbirdcentral.com.
Robert's wife, Cheryl, answered some questions about the project for Winged Victory.
"Colleene, A WASP - PT19"
Statue at Marsh Air Museum
|Share some biographical background on Robert.
|Robert was born in the Midwest. Many traumatic events gave way to a man who knows how to survive: loss of his father at age 11 months, constant moves throughout his early years, sister contracting polio, running away to his paternal grandparents when he was 10, living with his grandparents, in Oklahoma, who were both deaf and mute, which necessitated him learning sign language.
A brief peace-time stint in the Army, (45th INF DIV), and many more huge obstacles to surmount even before the ripe old age of 20.
Robert's family (mother, uncle) were fliers. Robert was an avid pilot and found himself at the FAA as an air traffic controller. His mother, an artist herself, and the inspiration for the W.A.S.P. sculpture, encouraged Robert to sculpt. Although she died as a result of breast cancer at the age of 56, she continues to be an influence.
|How did he first become interested in becoming a sculptor.
|After Robert retired from the FAA, he began to 'experiment' with the creative part of himself. Living in an area of Colorado ripe with sculptors, Robert became involved with The Loveland Sculptors - and acquired hands-on study among the truly fine sculptors of our generation. He attributes his wife, Cheryl, with steering him towards FINE art and seeing his talents leading in that direction. They have now been married for 29 years.
|Robert is known as the Warbird sculptor.
|Robert's passion for aviation and its history lead him to the Warbird era. While creating replicas of warbirds out of found objects, he met a P51 pilot, Glenn Crum, who introduced him to Air Force Academy personnel. Knowing that lifesized WWII airplanes were rare and if found, had to be maintained even as static displays, Robert offered to replicate those warbirds in bronze for display on the Academy grounds.
At that time, 1989, there were quite a few WWII pilots and crew memembers still alive and eager to mark their aviation history in bronze. ALL of the monumental bronze warbirds are funded ENTIRELY by those aviators and crew members who literally made history in them.
Each completion of an airplane brought forth the next group of airplane enthusiasts requesting THEIR warbird be memorialized and placed on the Honor Court at the Academy. To date, Robert's warbirds can be found at Pearl Harbor, Balboa Park in San Diego, as well as museums throughout the country.
|Who was your model for Colleene?
|As mentioned previously, Robert's mother Colleene, was the model for the W.A.S.P. memorial. Predating the actual beginning of the W.A.S.P. program, Colleene was a pilot who then married and began her career as a wife and mother.
|How did the idea for the Women Aviators Sculpture Patio come about.
||The Women Aviators Sculpture Patio evolved from ONE sentence we read in an aviation journal. The quote, "women do not seek aviation as careers because of the lack of mentors" made us think. Was that valid? Is there a lack of women in aviation because there weren't women, historically, who soared?
The more research done, the more we realized that there wasn't a lack of mentors BUT a lack of publicity about these pioneers. How to right that became the impetus for the Patio. How can a sculptor do that? IN BRONZE! When the idea became more public, women aviators of today started to give suggestions - citing THEIR own favorites, both living and dead.
Hence, the list of women who are cited on our website - which we are still adding to.
We are suggesting that if there are special women pilots nominated, groups/foundations/museums/individuals may sponsor that woman. We are open to ideas about who belongs on THE PATIO and are hopeful that the funding will also take place with ownership of the sculpture added incentive.
Current list on the site:
* Florence "Pancho" Barnes
* Jacqueline Cochran
* Harriet Quimby
* Beryl Markham
* Judith Resnik
* Geraldine Mock
* Hannah Reich
* Amelia Earhart
* Bessie Coleman
* Anne Morrow Lindbergh
* Sally Ride
* Nancy Harkness Love
* Emily Warner
|Take us through it from your concept drawings to how the sculpture is actually cast.
|The process of creating a bronze is laborious - from creating the sculpture in clay, mold taking, then wax, then investing the wax in shell casing, pouring molten bronze in the shell (lost wax process), having numerous bronze pieces, welding the pieces together, sanding, grinding, sanding, putting a patina on...
The process takes at least ONE FULL YEAR. I've not been more specific because it would probably take ME a year to do explain it all!
Suffice it to say, the clay process that Robert starts with is one that he spends a huge amount of time on. His attention to detail sets him apart from most sculptors - his work brings his subjects 'to life.' As a matter of note - the DANNY DIETZ,( NAVY SEAL) MEMORIAL prompted Danny's mother to thank Robert for 'bringing my son back to life.' Mario Andretti (the famed auto racing champion)wrote about Robert's bust of him: "Your work is not cold bronze, but bronze with emotion. Bronze that is alive." Robert is the official sculptor for John Denver and Walter Cronkite as well.
|How many aviators will be part of the Sculpture Park?
|We are unsure as to how many Women Aviators will grace the Patio. We know that at least 6 are scheduled to be completed, as of now.
The sculptures that are sponsored by groups will be placed where the groups choose. A copy of that aviator will then be created for the larger project to be placed at a central location - we are currently considering, seriously, two major sites who have asked to have this one-of-a-kind sculpture patio. Another possibility is a travelling exhibit of same.
All sculptures are copyright Robert Henderson and reproduced here with permission