The Wheeling Gaunt statue: Brian Maughan's last work
You have probably heard about the new statue of Wheeling Gaunt who was once enslaved and became an important leader in Yellow Springs. It’s right there at the entrance of the town, but there wouldn’t have been a statue without the art of Brian Maughan, a nationally renowned sculptor of life size figures.
Soon after Brian Maughan moved to Yellow Springs in the early 2000’s, friends invited him to their house which was once Wheeling Gaunt’s home. Gaunt’s face and story inspired Maughan to make a bust. With the help of his friends, he then persuaded the arts council to commission him to make a full-size bronze, a massive undertaking for a small town. By the time the project got underway, Maughan was coping with a serious illness. His wife Marie Hertzler says he did not slow down.
“He would wake up in the morning,” Hertzler recalls, “we would have breakfast, and he would say I have to go to the studio, I’ve got to go work on the project. He would work all day, and you know, you stand on your feet the whole time; you’re not sitting down, though, it can be a very physically taxing process.”
Maughan most often worked on commission, sculpting life-size figures in sports such as baseball player Hank Aaron and football player and coach Bart Starr. For every other commission in his life, Maughan would provide one small scale model for his patron. For the Wheeling Gaunt statue, He made five models. They were all in different poses for the committee to choose from.
Marie Hertzler says she and Brian would talk about the weight of the responsibility. “Sometimes he would come back, and he would just say, “Man, I just, I can’t get his arm the way I want it. You know, the clothing, or the muscles, just wasn’t quite going on the way he wanted it. And I asked him several times if he felt that Wheeling was aware that he was doing this sculpture, and then I asked him, “Is Wheeling able to help you?” And Brian did admit he had asked for guidance.”
Maughan’s strength was failing him so his son Anthony came from Detroit to help out. Anthony learned sculpting from his father a few decades Years earlier in New York, supporting him on several large commissions. Now Anthony worked alongside his dad again.
He remembers those workdays on the Gaunt sculpture. “I would usually burn out at about eight hours most days, seven or eight hours,” Anthony says, “and then I would sit and watch him sculpt, you know, for another couple hours while I sipped a beer and sort of marvel at the fact that he had so much energy to keep working on it and so much discipline to keep working on it.”
“He would always sculpt the person nude first.” Maughan remarks, “he would say things like, “A pair of pants don’t look like a pair of pants, and a jacket doesn’t look like a jacket.” You know, a jacket looks like a ribcage and all the muscles of the chest and the arms, and then there’s cloth over it. But it was always important for him to get the anatomy under that, you know, to make it feel like there’s a person inside the clothing and sort of inside the bronze.”
Some of the facial features and details of clothing, however, still needed a sculptor’s vision. Anthony came to realize that “the sculpture to me was starting to feel a little bit like a Frankenstein between some of my dad’s things and some of my things. And my father would want me to just do the very best that I could on the statue. And that what really had to be done was I had to sort of make it more my own work.”
Anthony is also a portrait painter. His own thinking about art guided his portrait of Gaunt in clay and finally in bronze. “Sometimes people want to make the portrait,” Anthony says, “and they want to show that you know the person, that you would look at the person, and you’re like “Oh, I know who this person is.” And that is often difficult if not impossible to do. And what I would like to show is that you want to know the person.”
As white sculptors, both Brian and Anthony Maughan talked to members of the Black community in Yellow Springs during the process. The Maughans wanted to create a lasting symbol of the community’s resilience. Cheryl Durgans, the project manager of the statue project, believes they succeeded. Durgan says, “We have an opportunity to provide a narrative of a different story that is not about confederate monuments all over the United States. We have an opportunity to form an accurate and true narrative of a man that contributed so much to our community, that was of African descent.”
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Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.