COMMISSION: Gloria Whitton Heath Award

Gloria Whitton Heath Award

COMMISSION: Gloria Whitton Heath Award

In 2021, I received a lovely email from Deborah Kirkman, the Director of Advanced Aviation for the Flight Safety Foundation. Debbie had seen my work and wondered if I might be interested in creating a sculpture for the Foundation. She then proceeded to share Gloria Whitton Heath’s impressive story with me.

Gloria Whitton Heath (1922–2017), an aviation pioneer, is regarded as one of the most accomplished women of the 20th century. After graduating from Smith College in 1943, she was selected to serve as a Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) during World War II. She flew B-26 bombers used for target practice at Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana and earned the rank of second lieutenant. Gloria was 25 when the war ended and the WASPs were disbanded.

Disbanding the WASPs, however, didn’t slow Gloria’s career in aviation. Her lifelong passion for flying and flight safety fueled her illustrious career. Gloria was a founding member of the Flight Safety Foundation and won numerous awards including the Engineering Sciences Award of the International Academy of Astronautics, Lifetime Achievement Award of the Women in Aerospace, the President’s Award of Flight Safety Foundation, and a Congressional Gold Medal.

COUNT ME IN

By the time Debbie finished telling me Gloria Heath’s story, I was all in and excited to sculpt a bust of Gloria for the Flight Safety Foundation.

My process of creating a likeness of an historic figure starts by learning all I can. This led to a series of working meetings with Flight Safety Foundation CEO, Dr. Hassan Shahidi, and his team.

The Flight Safety Foundation organization is composed of a fantastic group of professionals; the experience of working with them was as rewarding as sculpting the piece itself.

IN PRAISE OF WOMEN IN AVIATION

The goal of the award I was asked to sculpt was to honor deserving women who contributed significantly to the field of civil aviation. The Gloria Heath Trophy, I was told, was to be unveiled in 2022. The timeline was tight! To make matters even more challenging, I was given just six historic photographs from which to work.

I am obsessive when it comes to capturing detail and depicting my subjects with historical accuracy. To do this for Gloria, I went so far as to obtain a vintage US Army Air Corps World War II flight helmet along with a pair of original flight goggles, which I used as reference.

AND THE WINNER IS…

While I was working on the sculpture, the Flight Safety Foundation put out the call for nominations for the award. They received a total of 19 nominations from all over the world. An impressive showing considering this was the first year the trophy I was sculpting would be presented.

I finished the sculpture and soon after was told that the first awardee would be Poppy Khoza, the Director of South African Civil Aviation Authority. Ms. Khoza was presented her award at the Flight Safety Foundation’s Annual Networking dinner at the National Press Club, Washington DC, in June 2022.
Ms. Khoza traveled from South Africa to receive the award, and her moment of triumph was witnessed by many esteemed colleagues and one sculptor, yes, me, whose feet are most often firmly planted on the ground in my studio.

The event was magical and beautifully orchestrated, the atmosphere jubilant! After the program concluded, attendees literally mobbed the stage for a chance to have their pictures taken with my sculpture of Gloria Heath. There’s no telling how many selfies Gloria has shown up in!

The Gloria Heath Trophy, which took over 300 hours to complete, captures Gloria’s effervescent personality and her passion for aviation. Her infectious smile reflects her love of flying and evokes a sense of excitement for the future – it projects her indomitable spirit and effervescent personality.

Interested in learning more about my commission work, CLICK here to contact me.

FLY GIRL: the Divine Feminine Takes to the Air

current work Fly Girl Sculpture

FLY GIRL: the Divine Feminine Takes to the Air

I realized early on in my sculpting practice that I am happiest creating pieces that speak to the Divine Feminine. Among the powerful women figures who have inspired me are the gutsy Fly Girls of the early 20th century.

Air Racing, Barnstorming, Stunt Flying

Early Fly Girls took to the skies and paved the way for all women who dreamed of following unconventional paths.

Women have been involved in aviation for longer than most people realize. In 1788, Jeanne Labrosse was the first woman to fly solo in a hot air balloon over Paris. She was also the first woman to use a parachute. In 1906, Emma Lilian Todd designed her own aircraft. In 1910, Raymonde de Laroche was the first woman to earn a pilot license. So many other “Fly Girls” pushed their way out of the confining roles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Odds Are Stacked Against You

It’s not like flying was safe for men or women. Wings collapsed, and parts flew off, firewalls were made of wood–it didn’t take much for engine fires to turn deadly. Massive system failures occurred routinely, and, by the way, parachutes were not readily available.
On top of all that, flying was expensive, and most women didn’t have the money for such frivolity.

Besides, the roles set out for women were rigid and constrained by social norms. Flying was, in no uncertain terms, not ladylike.

Aviatrices Lead the Way

And yet, once bitten by the flying bug, these female iconoclasts did whatever it took to scrape together the money to afford flying lessons and airtime, convention be damned.

Back then, they were called “Aviatrices.” Brave pioneers like Raymonde la Laroche, Harriet Quimby, Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, and Bessie Coleman paved the way for other women to follow in their footsteps.

So, what was it that drove these pioneers to pursue such dangerous endeavors? Was it adventure, the challenge, or perhaps the thrill? Or, was it the feeling of unbridled freedom that comes from soaring in open space? My guess is that it was all of the above and more.

An Homage to Fly Girls Everywhere

I created Fly Girl as a tribute to early women’s aviation because I was fascinated by the stories and by what these women accomplished in the face of monumental obstacles. They were brave and courageous and possessed the drive to achieve their dreams.

I love telling these stories of the Divine Feminine through the medium of clay because their stories motivated me to achieve my own goals.

Would I have been a Fly Girl? I like to think so. Either way, I must admit, sculpting Fly Girl dressed in men’s jodhpurs as was the norm back then, gave me a huge thrill!

Subscribe to my blog to learn more about important divinely feminine heroes of the past. And please feel free to share my blog on social media and with friends.

Silver Wings

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Virginia Hall

Known by the Gestapo as “the most dangerous of Allied spies”, this formidable “limping lady” and “woman of no importance” was unknown by her real name: Virginia Hall.

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Clara

Who doesn’t love the story of The Nutcracker ballet? The inspiration for Clara comes from one of my earliest and fondest childhood memories.

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Henry

The inspiration for Henry is the result of hours spent researching 1950’s fashion.

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Divine Whisper

For a few weeks, I had wracked my brain trying to decide what my next sculpture should be. This part of the creative process is more difficult than one would imagine. For a sculpture to be successful it must have both motion and emotion. This is vital because sculpture, unlike a painting, typically does not rely on color to convey its message.  The sculpture also has to have meaning, not only for the viewer but for myself as well.  I have to absolutely fall in love with an image or concept in order to sculpt it. I figure that if I don’t love it, nobody else will either.  It’s the love of the image or the concept that helps propel me through the process and motivates me to stretch the limits of both my skills and imagination.

I knew that I wanted to create a piece that would give people a sense of hope but what image would convey that? Then one morning as I was transitioning from a state of sleep to wakefulness, it came to me. In my head, I heard the words “divine whisper”. My mind went immediately to an old picture that I had seen of two women in deep conversation.  You could feel the closeness and intimacy between them as they seem to share some kind of secret. It was clear from the image that one woman was giving her friend some important advice or help.

I had always wanted to sculpt an angel and thought of how amazing it would be to capture the moment a guardian angel advises her human charges.  What could possibly be more hopeful or inspirational than that? I believe that these special messengers surround us at all times and are ready to assist us on our life journey.  All we need to do is ask for their assistance. Angels provide unseen help in some of the most remarkable ways. Sometimes it comes in the form of a nudge or a thought. Sometimes it comes from seemingly unrelated, “random” happenstances. Sometimes it comes through people who come across our paths at precisely the right time.

I have received tremendous help from the seen and the unseen world. Every person who helps me provides a unique combination of gifts and talent that I do not possess. I am deeply grateful for each one of them. My husband, Mike, provides counsel that is wise, practical, and pragmatic. My sister-in-law, Marla, whose enthusiasm for my work is positively contagious, keeps me motivated. Then there is my niece, Katey, who models for me at the drop of a hat. I think she keeps her bathing suit with her at all times just in case! My two kids always provide honest feedback, and they both provide creative and “out of the box” ideas for me to consider. Then there is Teri. What would I do without her? I know one thing for sure, I would not be on my current path if not for Teri. Teri is a beautiful person on so many levels and possesses great wisdom and business acumen. She is a strategic thinker and she is a woman of vision. She sees things that I don’t see. Teri is also the model for the angel in this celestial sculpture. You can feel the ethereal energy in this piece as she provides counsel and direction to her human charge who is listening intently to her words of wisdom. Divine Whisper represents hope. Hope that we are not alone and that if we ask for guidance and help, it will come in the most unexpected ways with impeccable timing.

Iron Backbone

Iron Backbone was finished and the photoshoot was in the can. Just when I thought “everything is just as it should be,” I walked into the studio, and lo and behold Raleigh Joe Hamilton, the third rail worker was collapsing! He literally was in the process of breaking in half in the middle. What the hell had happened??? I couldn’t wrap my head around it, this has never happened to me before! All kinds of mishaps happen throughout the creative process. Like the time when the male figures of Selfless Valor slid off the table and onto the floor. Miraculously, they survived as my sister-in-law Marla and I stood there in disbelief. That definitely called for a glass of red wine. Another time, when sculpting Herr Drosselmeyer (The Gift), he too fell off the sculpture stand. When I picked him up he actually was in a better position than before. But breaking in half, right there on the track… Now what?

The lyrics to Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” began to rattle around in my addled brain. “And is it over now, do you know how, to pick of the pieces and go on?” First thing to do was to remove him off the track and try and figure out what went wrong. I had to set him down and walk away for a few days – while simultaneously petitioning for divine intervention. I let the dust settle and began analyzing the problem. I initially thought that maybe the studio got too hot and the clay had become too soft. I quickly dismissed that theory as my other two guys: Erskine MacBride and Hank Crawford were unaffected by the temperature – they were just fine. My next thought concerned the type of clay that I had used. I hypothesized that if I were to pack harder/stiffer clay in the crack, which by now had become a cavern, that that could be a possible solution to the problem. That too proved to not be the answer. No matter how much clay I packed in the cavern, the steel rod which is part of the armature continued to wobble – much like a flag on a windy day. This was definitely a bad sign. To digress here, an armature is a framework that braces and supports a sculpture. As I continued my analysis, I began to suspect that maybe the armature had broken. As poor Raleigh just laid there, I got a knife and began exploratory surgery… I don’t think he felt a thing! Yes, it was true, the aluminum wire within his torso and literally snapped in half. It was at this point that I realized that I had no choice but to start over. I know it sounds like a tragedy, but in reality, it is not.

Over the years I have gotten really good at starting over. My natural predisposition is to look for the positive in a negative or adverse situation. Here is what is good that came out of this apparent disaster. First, it gave me a great idea for the topic discussed in this blog post. Second, I was able to salvage Raleigh’s head which will be reattached to his new body. If he had fully collapsed, his face would have been smashed to smithereens and unrecognizable and unusable. Third, most importantly it forced me to create a stronger body for Raleigh. His collapse in the studio instead of on the way to the foundry was a blessing in disguise. I am sure as I recall the journey of recreating his body I will find more things to be grateful for. You find what you look for!

Bayanihan Spirit

Bayanihan Spirit

It all started on a Friday evening about two years ago. My dear sister-in-law Marla and I were sitting at the island in my kitchen having a glass of wine discussing the goings-on of the week. I noticed that she was more animated than usual and wondered what was going on. It wasn’t long before she pulled from her purse a very old worn diary. I was instantly curious. She told me while going through her Grandfather’s WWII memoirs she found his war diary. The diary revealed this poignant story.

While serving with the USAFE 2nd lt. Albert Bacani was captured by the Japanese just weeks prior to the Bataan Death March. Bacani was beaten and tortured. The Japanese soldier who was in charge demanded that he give up everything in his pocket but when Bacani offered up the rosary that his mother had given him before going off to war, the soldier folded it back into his hand and told him to keep it. By some miracle, that his writing doesn’t disclose, he escapes from his captors and is rescued by a Filipino rice farmer and his wife. By the time that he made it to the stoop of their thatched hut, he was dying of malaria and dysentery. Despite the fact that he had contagious diseases, and if caught by the Japanese for harboring a fugitive they would be executed on the spot, they made the courageous decision to bring this stranger into their home and nurse him back to health. Because of their unselfish decision to come to his aid, Bacani went on to live to the age of 102 years old and was the first Filipino World War II veteran to receive the financial compensation he so richly deserved.

I was completely captivated by this amazing story and knew immediately that I needed to capture the essence of this epic in sculpture form. I immediately went to work. I had done figurative work before, but this would be the first time that I would attempt three figures in the same vignette. My goal was to capture the split second that the rice farmer and his wife made that pivotal decision to save Bacani’s life. I worked on this piece almost on a daily basis for four months. Throughout this process, I researched Filipino culture and the role that the Filipinos played in the war. Initially, I thought that what the rice farmer and his wife did was extremely unusual but, to my great surprise, discovered that for Filipinos to take in perfect strangers during the war was in fact not uncommon. What this rice farmer and his wife did, like so many others, was demonstrate the epitome of the Bayanihan Spirit. Stay tuned in another blog to find out step by step how this piece was brought to life.