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[ Transcript for: Sabra Tull Meyer: A Sculptor's Journey Through Missouri History ]

Sabra Tull Meyer: A Sculptor's Journey Through Missouri History Video Transcript


Speaker Introduction

MS. SALLY SPRAGUE: It gives me great pleasure to introduce this month's program speaker, Sabra Tull Meyer, from Columbia, Missouri. Sabra and I have been working together for seven years on the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Monument, which will be located in the Katy Trail Head Park, which is at the capitol complex directly across from the Carnahan Gardens.

Sabra completed her work on these five heroic-sized figures almost a year ago. And we're getting ready for the beginning of the construction of the park in just a few weeks. Sabra has been creating bronze sculptures for over 30 years. Her works are found in numerous public sites and private collections. One of her most recent sculptures, The
Aerie, was selected as a tribute gift to outgoing president Elson Floyd of the University of Missouri.

Sabra also has been chosen seven times by the Speaker of the House to sculpt the bronze bust for the Hall of Famous Missourians in the Capitol rotunda.

The last two that she is doing: Bob Barker, of the Price is Right fame, which we dedicated this month on the 12th in the Capitol rotunda. And the 7th, a bust, is Lamar Hunt, which will be dedicated at the last Kansas City Chiefs home game in Kansas City, Missouri.

Sabra is a charter member and listed in the Archives of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. She has studied under Eugene Daub, Paul Moore and Rosalyn Cook. And has taught at both Stephens [Stephens College] and William Woods [William Woods University] colleges and continues to conduct workshops in both Missouri and Oklahoma.

Please welcome my wonderful friend, Sabra Tull Meyer.

Resources for Creating Busts of Someone No Longer Living

MS. SABRA TULL MEYER: Thank you, Sally, for such a wonderful introduction. I appreciate it so much. And without ado then we will begin with “A Sculptor's Journey Through History.” Sorry there, we eliminated the Missouri history, which this, of course, will be this evening.

The first slide that you saw was the maquette, that is the small model of Lewis and Clark. And we will see more of him a little later.

Right now, I'm going to show you how I perceive to create a bust of someone who is no longer living. I have to rely on a lot of photographs and places like the Archives are very important for that. The Missouri State Historical Society is another, the Smithsonian Institute. I have used all of those as a resource for the photographs that I need.

There was an exhibit of George Washington several years ago in the Smithsonian and so I was able to collect a lot of photographs. You can go on the Internet, of course, and pull photographs and information up, but rarely can you ever enlarge them to usable size. I usually need a photograph of eight by ten or five by seven at the minimum. Even then I
have to use a magnifying glass.

The Sculpting Process

So this is how I would begin. Underneath this clay and foam there is a pipe that is about—in this case, about eighteen inches tall, and around that pipe I use insulating foam or some other polyurethane foam that I can cut into sections.

Then I begin to add clay. I work in an oil-based clay, and it does not dry up, which is quite suitable for creating portrait busts a lot of the things that you're going to see today are portrait bust.

So we will then, Emily, go to the next.

And this——I just have a series here to show you the progression so that you can see the likeness appearing. It's kind of amazing if it would occur as fast as it does on these slides.

Next. So you can begin to see a little bit of George Washington. There is a lot of research that I must do, which I thoroughly enjoy doing before I begin. I need to know the age that I'm going to portray this person. And usually I select the sort of mid-years. Well, from my point of view the mid-years of life, around 50. So that the person is not young
and not yet, old. And can show some of the characters. So, in this case, I had a number of photographs of George Washington from his youngest days until his latter years.

And I also need besides a variety of age, a variety of angles of the photograph. I need a straight-on-view, three-quarter views and the most prized of all a profile. And that may not seem important to you, but it is essential in capturing a likeness of a person.

So now let's go to the next. So you can gradually see I do not put in many details at first. I try to keep it kind of blocked in until I think I have the likeness that I want. And I'm beginning to—I had to decide again on what he would wear. So I researched the kind of ruffle, the kind of coat that was worn at this particular period.

Now, more. So he's looking better all the time. That's what we want.

Next. And the details are gradually appearing. I do not finish any part of the sculpture before the other part. I try to work all over the piece. Whatever it is not getting into to much detail in the beginning, and not until the very end, in fact, do I put in the detail.

Next. And there's a profile because I wanted to record his little queue, that little pigtail that was very popular among men of that time period.

And then, at last, we will see the next. That's the finished clay. And this goes to the foundry. I use a foundry in Kansas City, Missouri, for most of my bust.

Now, we will go to the next. And you we see it cast in bronze. Many things have to happen between the last clay model and when it is finally cast in bronze. It's a labor intensive work, and the men at the foundry are really wonderful. They are artists and artisans. And they can create from clay using a long process and several kinds of
molds before this is done. This is in, as you can see, Washington, Missouri.

It—that town was, I believe, first called Washington's Landing, and in 1814 there was a ferry crossing there. And then in 18—in the 1820s sometime they founded and incorporated the City of Washington.

General Odon Guitar

Okay, next. This is General Odon Guitar, this is one of the—and these are all historic—heroic-size, they are larger than life-size. And this is one—this is one of the first historical busts that I did. And I got most of the photographs from the State Historical Society in Columbia. And I found—I decided to show him, of course, in his Union uniform. And I was looking desperately through all the photographs that they had stored there in the State Historical Society, and I was looking for a profile. It was so interesting—I usually try to read biographies before I ever begin the bust because I sort of feel it gives me an insight into their character and in some way it helps me create the likeness.

I don't quite know how that happens, but it does make a difference. So I was looking through all the photographs and there, lo and behold, was a picture of the General in profile. And behind him—I thought this was such an interesting picture, because behind him was his wife and all their children posed on the bench for the photographer, but the General chose to stand about 10 feet away from them and he was staring off into space with his back to them. So there must have been something indicative of his character in this —in this photograph. But it did give me the needed profile.

George Caleb Bingham

Okay and this is in, as you can see, Jesse Hall.

And this is George Bingham. George Caleb Bingham and it's in Boonville. I guess all of that's put there for you. I originally—this was the first bust that I ever did. And I did it in 1979 while I was still a student at—in the master’s program at the university. It was sold to a man named Stanly Ginn, who is no longer living. And Boonville wanted this sculpture so I went to—this being the first time I ever done this. I went to the owner, his daughter, and asked her permission to borrow the bust, have a mold made and then have another bronze reproduced. And his daughter, Nancy, very graciously agreed to this. And so, in a way it kind of surprised me. I think that was—I had maybe done two or three busts in clay, life-sized.

So I didn't make very many alterations on this, I changed the hair a little bit from the original. I thought I could improve on that. Basically, it is the same thing that I did, which is kind of amazing for all that time to have passed.

Sister St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

Next. This is another of the busts that I have done for the Hall of Famous Missourians, and Sister St. Rose Philippine Duchesne came from France. She was about 40 years old when she came, landed in New Orleans, came up the river to St. Louis and eventually founded the first free schools west of the Mississippi River. And for all of her wonderful contributions to life at that time, she was selected. I believe, Speaker Hannaway Catherine Hannaway] was the speaker who commissioned her.

Walter Williams

Next. And this is Walter Williams and all of his attributes are listed there. And he is also in the Boonville Park. In '08, September of '08 they will celebrate 100 years of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, and I have done a second bust of Walter Williams, and it is different from this because he is in his academic robes.

And so, it will be placed outside, I believe, they're still planning to do this of the new building, the Institute of Journalism that is going to be built on the quadrangle in Columbia on the university campus. So I've had to wait a while for that, but in '08, September, it will be unveiled.

Carl Burkel

Next. And everyone should recognize Carl Burkel. I included him because he was so important here in Jefferson City, and made such a contribution to the education and to the music of this city.

And next. Oh, and he is in the Performing Arts Center, it said that.

Dale Carnegie

The next a bust that you will see—this is the clay model. I thought I would show you. Again, you can see the difference between the clay and then when it is cast in bronze.

And then the next, shows him in the—well, he's not yet out in the Hall of Famous Missourians, but I believe it's inside the chamber of—oh, let's see, of the House of Representatives. That's where he was unveiled, and then a second bust is at the University of Central Missouri at Warrensburg where he was a graduate or attended school, I'm not sure he graduated.

Next. And this is Saul and Gladys Weinberg founders of the Museum of Art and Archeology at the university. And they were so interesting. They were both still alive when I did this, so I was able to go and interview them, and take my own photographs. They were well-known all over the archeological world. Their specialty was coins and bronze-age—what do I say, jewelry and armaments, knives and other things.

And they were in Greece and other places in the thirties. It was so much fun to talk to them. They were well up in their eighties, in fact, Saul died just a month after I completed this bronze sculpture, but they—

Hi, Charlie, why don't you all just come in, find a spot.

MALE SPEAKER: (Statement unintelligible.)

MS. SABRA TULL MEYER: There are lots of seats right down here.

MALE SPEAKER: (Statement unintelligible.)

MS. SABRA TULL MEYER: That'll be good.

So there is just something fascinating about being able to interview people who were so well-known. And they met in Greece on an archeological dig. And I asked Saul and Gladys, you know, how long after that did you wait till you got married. And Gladys said, "Well, it was a long time." And she looked at him kind of, like this. And Saul said, very
mildly, "Well, there was a war, Gladys."

And World War II had started. He went to London and was in the—deciphered and helped to break codes and other things. He was, of course—they were brilliant people. But I just loved that, and I never look at this that I don’t think of her looking at him and saying, "Well, it was a long time before you asked me." And then, he said, "There was a war, Gladys."

Senator Kit Bond

Next. And this is a, of course, well-known Senator, Kit Bond. And unfortunately here was Kit, a live subject, that I couldn't get to because they wanted to surprise him. So I had to work totally from photographs, from my point-of-view that was really a great missed opportunity.

Roger Wilson

Next. And this is Roger Wilson, former Governor, and he came and sat for me often. And his wife, Pat, came with him and Roger would get kind of impatient at sitting, and so she read —what was the wonderful book about, Sea—not—yeah, Seabiscuit. She read Seabiscuit to keep him entertained so he wouldn't get bored having to sit for me. He is a wonderful guy, and he and Pat are really great people.

Attorney General John Ashcroft

Next. And this, of course, is Attorney General John Ashcroft, and he very graciously agreed to meet me in Springfield so that I could take a photograph. My children were with me, it was just before Thanksgiving. So I really feel that nothing really substitutes for seeing a live person. You can look at all the photographs you want, but just seeing the face and the features and being able to take your own photographs are really wonderful.

Edwin Hubble

And next. And this is Edwin Hubble, the famous astronomer who, I guess, actually discovered what is called The Big Bang Theory, the fact that the universe is expanding.

And he, of course, is where the source of the name, the Hubble Telescope came from. He was born in Missouri. His parents were here visiting down in Springfield—Marshfield, near Springfield, and let's see, the Speaker of the House then was Crider and he commissioned this piece. I guess each speaker selects the people, of course, that they would like to honor and frequently they may be people from their district.

And his grandparents, Hubble's grandparents, just happened to be—his parents were visiting his grandparents and he just happened to be born while they were down there visiting. And, I think, he lived in Marshfield for about nine years and then moved away.

But he was quite a remarkable man. He was a great athlete and didn't even go into astronomy until after World War I, in which he served. And so, it was kind of interesting reading about all of his achievements. He and his wife lived in San Marino, California, and they hob-knobbed with all of the movie stars of the day. And as you can see he was a very—he was a very handsome man, tall, very athletic, and so, I always love reading about the people that I'm going to try and re-create.

Marlin Perkins

Next. Marlin Perkins. And Sally and Hugh Sprague were with me and he was unveiled at the St. Louis Zoo. I think it was in September of '04, and it was a beautiful day, and it was such an appropriate place for him to be. And one of the people there in the audience came up and started talking to me about the Wild Kingdom program, which was a must for our family and our children. They never miss the Wild Kingdom program. But he began to laugh about and ask if I remembered the incident—which I did—when Marlin Perkins was talking on the microphone and in the background, Jim—remember his tall handsome assistant? —and two other people were wrestling with the boa constrictor that had wrapped itself around Jim, and Marlin went right on talking. I guess, he didn't really know what was happening behind him. But it was amazing that someone else who was there at the dedication had remembered the same thing I did.

Barney Zimmerly

Okay next. And this is one of my newest pieces. This is the clay model for Barney Zimmerly, who was an early pilot. He is the father of Virginia Stewart and father-in-law of Norm Stewart, and it is going to be placed in the Civic Auditorium and Museum that they are building now in Marshall, Missouri. They're honoring the flying school where Barney taught. And it was the Nicholas-Beasley Marshall School of Flying. So they have a replica of the plane in which he set two records for the time. It was—I think it might have been a Barling [Barling Bomber] plane. I cannot quite remember that now. And he set a record in St. Louis for the altitude for planes under 800 pounds. So you know this wasn't a very big plane.

And he went to 27,000 feet and then he later, the next year, flew from Brownsville, Texas to Winnipeg, Canada—non-stop of course. He went over his old home in North Dakota and dropped two messages, one for his wife's parents and another for his family. And I thought he flew all night—I've forgotten how long it took him, but that was the long
distance record for planes under 800 pounds.

And he was a very handsome man. This was a lot of fun to do and, again, I had to do a lot of research to see what— what the helmets looked like, where were the seams in the helmets, how did the goggles fit on and just all kinds of things that you don't think about until you begin to re-create it and you know somebody is going to know. Somebody will come up and will be an authority on that subject and will say, "Oh, that helmet is wrong." But in any case, this—this was a lot of fun, and it should be cast, oh, I think, by next—by October it will be in bronze.

Bob Barker

Next. And this is Bob Barker. The clay model, of Bob Barker, and the bronze I just delivered to the Capitol Building yesterday. And he will be, as Sally said, unveiled Wednesday the 12th at three o'clock in the afternoon. So he—he was a wonderful subject and, of course, all of the photographs show him smiling. So there was no choice, but to have a smiling photograph. There was not a single photograph of him—and he has a nice smile so, and he's in television and so I'm quite sure he usually smiles when he's posing for his pictures.

Veteran’s Memorial

Next. And this is the Veterans’ Memorial. It commemorates all five branches of the service. And then in the center, unfortunately, the slide—this photograph just doesn't show it. In the center is a eleven-foot tall triangular shape, polished granite piece of stone, and on one side of the triangle is the World War II—let's see, that would be the M1, and then I had to go to Rolla. I don't mean Rolla, I mean, Fort Leonard Wood. They have a museum there. I had to research the gun, which as I recall was an M1, the type of helmet and the type of boot in order to create the Soldier's cross, which we're all familiar with. The gun has the helmet on top of it and then the boots are placed at the base of it.

So I created the Soldier's cross, as I say, I did my research and went down to the museum and they brought all of these things up and I arranged them, took photographs, had the etchings made. So that World War II is on one side and the Gulf War is on the other side with the M16, different helmet, different boots. And then on the backside is the Gettysburg Address. So it makes a really—and I designed the—you know, everything about this. The dimensions of the sidewalk and the arrangement of the benches and the five granite prints that honor the five branches of services.

The Lewis & Clark Project

Okay next. Now I'm going to show you how I began the Lewis & Clark Project. Now you can see I'm very familiar with the plumbing department at Westlake's Ace Hardware in Columbia. And they have some very nice men who help when I can't find what it is I need.

And so I began with a round circle of wood, a metal flange, the pipes, and I adjust the pipes up and down with different connectors. And then I begin with aluminum clothes wire and oh, maybe another kind of that little metal piece there in the middle is used for what, in plumbing, I don't remember, but it looked just the right size to me.

And then I wrap it with duct tape and then I had to—now think about this, I knew that if this figure was going to be a certain height. My maquette had to be sixteen inches from the top of the head to the heels because it was going to go to the foundry and be enlarged six times.

And that makes me think. I always tell this story because when I was talking to the foundry man at the Crucible in Norman, Oklahoma, and I wanted carefully to go over with these mathematical equations. I'm not a mathematical genius by any means and I wanted to be sure I had it exactly correct. And he told me, "Yes, now if it's sixteen inches high we'll enlarge it six times and it will be nine—eight feet tall not including his hat in Lewis' [Captain Meriwether Lewis] case." Then he said, "Just remember that every mistake you make will be enlarged six times." That's not a very good thing to be thinking about. So after much careful measurement so that I knew where the head was going to go at the top that it would be exactly sixteen inches.

Then you have to decide well, now how long are the arms and the legs. So that's—that's just part of what you do.

Now let's go to the next. So this is—I'm sorry to say it's a profile view, but you can see that I'm beginning to add a little clay to kind of build out the figure a little bit.

Now the next. And a little bit more clay, in fact, I think that sign says Day 2, but maybe you all can read that. Does it? And so, I think, it was at Sally's suggestion that I put these cards there—oh, sorry—to kind of record my progress because I have a tendency just to start work and I never remember. But it was kind of interesting to see Day 2, 3, and 4.

Okay next. Now we have come all the way to the finished project, I mean, the finished sixteen inch maquette in clay. And I first fill in the figure. I create the unclothed figure. This is not something I invented. Many, many sculptors do this. And only that way am I able—because if I start working with the clothes from the outside, then you lose where the body is. Where was that elbow, now where was that knee. So I always build the body first and add the clothing in layers.

And then we had a decision to make and that was what are these people going to be wearing? Would they be wearing buckskins? No, not yet because we had decided on a certain day June 4, 1804, when the Corps of Discovery had come up river and they were right here where Jefferson City is now.

So I decided after looking at the wonderful book by Bob Moore and Michael Haynes, Tailor Made, Trail Worn, that these, what are called hunting frocks or hunting coats, are made of kind of a linen that has been oiled and is sort of waterproof. That this would make a very interesting garment and so he is wearing his uniform underneath with his vest, his sword belt and his hat and then this gives—I felt, these clothes gave a kind of wonderful—they could blow in the breeze and they had a lot of—they weren't just tight form-fitting, hard wool. They just appealed to me more. And so, that is what Lewis is wearing.

Now we'll go to the next one. And here is Clark [Captain William Clark] and he is wearing the same kind of hunting frock, they called it. We think of a frock as a dress today, but then it was a garment or a coat. And then he has his uniform on underneath and he is bare-headed and, of course, he's using—he's sighting up the river.
Next. And this is Drouillard [George Drouillard] and he is shown, of course, in the clothing that is more typical of what he would have been wearing which, he was the hunter, interpreter, fisherman, all-around person that they needed desperately.

Next. And this York, a manservant of Clark and there was much discussion with the people—with Bob Moore and Michael Haynes about the use of guns. Would they have had guns? Would York of had a gun? And we didn't get a definitive answer but we were told that it was possible. So York and Drouillard are both carrying their guns.

Next, I think, is Seaman. And this is wonderful. I wondered where I would ever find a Newfoundland dog and the Paisleys in—south of Ashland—Hartsburg, raised these wonderful dogs. And they brought one to my house, Hunter, who was the first model and unfortunately Hunter died and I went back to their kennels and photographed and looked at one of his —his granddaughter actually. And so, it gave me a wonderful feeling for the texture of their fur and they are such big, gentle dogs. I could feel his body and it was just really wonderful.

Next. And this is the sixteen—those are the sixteen inch figures and this is the large bronze maquette and it's in the back of my car but—I mean, that's where it was when I photographed it.
Okay next. And now we are down at the Crucible in Norman, Oklahoma, and the magic has occurred. Those sixteen inch figures were digitally scanned and enlarged and carved in polyurethane foam. And then they were sprayed with clay. So the light part that you see at the top is the part they hadn't reached yet. They sprayed the lower part of the figures and so you can see the polyurethane foam at the top.

So I worked for—I can't think how long, longer than I—several months and I had a few visitors, the Spragues and the Salters came and when you walk around the corner and look into this big studio I—when I first saw them, I knew how big they were supposed to be, but it still is kind of a shocking thing to see. And I think they would agree it's kind of overwhelming.

And I realized then I had a big job ahead of me. And so, I had to—I had to go over each square inch of each of those big figures and get the clay exactly right, get it detailed because there are corrections that have to be made. The faces have to kind of be re-carved because it's just not possible to get them exactly right and where the eye sockets are is just kind of a little indentation.

So I once asked the man at the enlarging studio how many square feet he thought—since he had it on the computer he could of looked it up for me, but maybe I don't ever want to know—how many square was involved in the surface of all of these figures? Maybe someday I'll get him to do that.

So this shows—I have to look from here. Well, Clark is up here and that's York. And over there is Lewis. And isn't the dog in there somewhere? From my angle I can't—I can't remember.

MALE SPEAKER: (Statement unintelligible.)


MALE SPEAKER: (Statement unintelligible.)

MS. SABRA TULL MEYER: Alright, thank you.

MALE SPEAKER: (Statement unintelligible.)


Next. And this is another view of—this is almost, I believe, he's almost finished there so you can see that the clay has—it's kind of pebbly and rough from having been sprayed on.

So it takes—and it was cold in those studios. It wasn't until April that I could really move the clay around very well. It was just—and we used torches to kind of—well, warm it up and then I could smooth it a little more easily. But that shows Clark.

Okay next. And there is Drouillard. It is so interesting. The enlarging studios are about a mile away from the foundry where the molds are made and the bronze is poured and they're all finished. So the people in Norman, I guess, who live along these two roads they must be accustomed to seeing almost anything go by.

And so they have Drouillard all loaded here but it's kind of interesting just to see how big he looks in the back of the pickup truck. So he is off to the foundry and then he goes to the mold making and the final casting.

Okay next. And this is Lewis and he—and there's Flat Stanley and Janet—Janet Mower sent me Flat Stanley and she said, "Now, this is a project for the kids." So Flat Stanley visited each one of the figures, but I just happen to have the one of Lewis here.

Okay next. And this is at the foundry and I think the caption over there tells you that this is the bronze of Lewis. His plume you will notice is not on his hat yet. And this is the unfinished bronze so it doesn't have its patina yet. So it is a kind of pale, gold color. And you'll see that all the figures look this way.

And you'll notice because this figure weighs about 900 pounds maybe a little more, they certainly don't want it to fall over and fall on anybody, so they use huge overhead cranes and hooks to chain them.

Next. And this is—who is that?

SPEAKER: (Statement unintelligible.)

MS. SABRA TULL MEYER: Thank you, sometimes I can't tell York from the side.

And so he—it doesn't yet have his gun in place. The guns had to be cast separately and then welded in place.

Next. And they give—they give you a little black marker pen so once the figures are cast you go over the whole thing and if you see any pits or bumps or corrections—they told me they were going to take the pen away from me.
So I guess I got a little over—overprotective or overzealous. So anyhow, it does give you an idea of how big these figures are.

Next. And the lighting, I'm sorry, is not very good inside for some reason that day there's strong light coming from outside, but this is Drouillard and he—I can't tell in this slide—and York is over in the background near the back of the camera and he's welding or repairing something.

Next. And I like this because it shows the fringe there on the back of his coat and, of course, the instrument he's using.

Next. And here is Seaman.

Next. Again, York, and they have now welded his gun in place securely.

Next. And let's see that's Drouillard.

And the next is—this is a photograph, as you can see taken by John Tandy, and it was taken in the Spragues side yard. And just to give you an idea of what this sculpture is going to look like once it's in place. The only difference will be that where you see rocks made of bronze they will be rocks made of limestone.

And so, I just—I am getting pretty excited, it sounds like they are going to begin work soon and we have waited a long time.

I just thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. Everyone, thanks.