Skip to content
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.

Capturing someone’s essence in clay can be as elusive as capturing intelligence agent, Virginia Hall.  This focused and formidable woman intrigued me when I learned of her through Sarah Megan Thomas’s gripping film, A Call to Spy, which led me to Craig Gralley’s, Hall of Mirrors and Sonia Purnell’s A Woman of No Importance.  

I was inspired!  The more I read, the more I needed to create a sculpture to broaden awareness for one who risked everything in the cause for freedom.  

Virginia’s story is only now expanding beyond the intelligence community where she is widely-recognized as an American agent who served in France for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War.  

As an amputee who lost her left leg during a hunting accident, Virginia’s daily existence included a 7lb prosthesis that she nicknamed “Cuthbert”.  She dreamed of serving as an ambassador for the United States; however, her multiple applications to serve the U.S. State Department were returned. Women accounted for only six of 1,500 U.S. diplomats at the time.  She received gender and disability discrimination, yet she persisted, undaunted.  

They say “when one door closes, another door opens”. Clearly, it was not in Virginia’s paradigm to wait for something magical to happen. She found a door and willed it to open.

When her dream of a career with the Department of State was not to be realized, Virginia went to work for the British SOE. After completing her training in Great Britain, she was sent on her initial assignment.  Originally a two-month stint, this assignment to gather intelligence in France evolved into 15 months.  Virginia’s personal initiative expanded the scope of mission.       

Her personal exploits led to Gestapo forces hunting her.  Her day-to-day existence meant unceasing stress from this cunning hunt; the need was to evade a capture which would surely lead to torture and death.  

She risked her life as an SOE agent fighting the Germans Gestapo in France.  She developed a network of resistance fighters throughout France, which blew up bridges and fuel depots, took down communications networks, and derailed trains. 

Eventually, her betrayal by someone she trusted forced her to flee France on foot.  She was unmatched in grit during her escape from Nazi forces, dragging her 7lb prosthesis over the Pyrenees Mountains for 50 miles in heavy snow over 3 days.  She became the only woman to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Valor; the only woman to receive this award during WWII.

Eventually, she made her way back to England and once there, Virginia immediately began to maneuver to return to France to continue her fight against the Nazis. SOE leadership would have none of it as she had been exposed and would not likely survive. Klaus Barbie, known as the “Butcher of Leon”, was obsessed with capturing Virginia; it was just too great a risk. Again, Virginia persevered and was able to join the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to today’s Central Intelligence Agency. The OSS sent Virginia back to France to continue her work. She continuously outwitted Klaus Barbie and the Gestapo forces – all the while displaying uncommon valor and selflessness.  She is truly one of the most inspiring women of the 20th Century.

Working on this sculpture of Virginia can be best described as a artistic rush. Reading her story and understanding the magnitude of her contribution during WWII fueled an intense desire spend countless hours in the studio to capture her beautiful image in a life-size work. 

 

Virginia Hall, cast bronze, 22” × 15” × 9”. Limited edition of 25

Share

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest
Reddit
Tumblr