The Monument Man

Zenos Frudakis has spent the last fifty years sculpting life out of bronze, aiming to capture the likeness and spirit of his subjects and to shine a light on those who have helped foster change in the world.

AIRED: January 15, 2021 | 0:26:46

- [Narrator] Articulate with Jim Cotter is made possible

with generous funding from the Neubauer Family Foundation.

- Welcome to Articulate,

the show that examines our creativity,

as the very essence of our humanity.

I'm Jim Cotter and on this episode,

"The monument man" Zenos Frudakis

has spent the last 50 years,

sculpting life out of bronze.

Aiming to best capture the likenesses

and spirits of his subjects and to shine a light

on those who have helped foster change in the world.

- Even though you are seeing what's really there.

What you're creating is kind of an intersection

between you and the world around you.

Like if sculpted you, it wouldn't be just you,

and it's part of me too.

It's almost like, you know,

a child you're having with someone else.

You're bringing yourself and the other person

and there's that overlap.

And the overlap is the sculpture between the two.

- [Jim] That's all I had on Articulate.

(orchestral calm music)

(helicopter roaring)

In early June of 20, the city of Philadelphia

removed a controversial statue of its former mayor

and police commissioner Frank Rizzo.

Days earlier, a group demonstrating against police brutality

had set fire to the statue.

Rizzo was a vocal opponent of desegregation

and minority rights.

And under his leadership in the late 1960s and 70s,

the police department engaged in widespread

and brazen abuses of power as documented by Bill Marimow

and Jonathan Newman in a Pulitzer prize winning

Philadelphia Inquirer series.

Ironically, the man who had created the statue

on a private commission, Zenos Frudakis

has devoted much of his own life

working to overthrow the same injustices

Rizzo so fervently propagated.

Over almost five decades,

he has created dozens of monuments,

lifelike statues, and abstract sculptures,

including depictions of trailblazing leaders

like musician, Nina Simone, and marches to change

such as Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln.

(calm soft music)

His works may be silent, but they speak loudly for change.

- Well, everything that I do is permeated by this sense

of wanting to do leave the world a better place.

I want to, I see the world in a, I hope a compassionate way.

That's important to me in all my work

to have that element of humanity.

It's not just about length and width and depth.

It's about that other dimension of time.

- [Jim] Frudakis is one of the most accomplished sculptures

of our time.

At Japan's third Rodin Grand Prize International

invitational exhibition,

he was named "The American Rodin," a fitting title

since for Frudakis has always revered

that great 19th century French sculpture.

His creations were imbued with realistic human character

and physicality and symbols of the artist's own philosophy.

Rodin reinvented the notion of the ancient sculpture

appealing to the uncanny,

yet making his works resemble their human subjects

so closely while appearing weightless,

fluid and unencumbered by the materials they were made of.

(calm soft music)

- There were other sculptors at his time who were,

who could make a human figure that looked

like it would walk.

I mean, look you know, it had tremendous facility,

but what he did was something more

than just the object itself.

- [Jim] Rodin's greatest work might be the Gates of Hell.

A 20 foot by 14 foot sculpted doorway.

The sculptor was originally commissioned

to create an inviting entrance to a soon to be built

art museum in the heart of Paris.

Often driven by metaphor.

Rodin created 180 figures inspired by Dante's Inferno.

A 14th century epic poem, following a man's journey

through the seven stages of hell.

Rodin's Gates of Hell was and is revered the world over.

And some of his most recognizable works

come from the margins of this piece.

Like the thinker, a man simply sitting in contemplation.

- And the thinker's really him.

He's sitting at the top of his Gates of Hell,

thinking about his creation below him and all around him,

that he's has his hands in and he's forming.

It was almost like he had a garden

and it was a garden of ideas.

And he was growing his ideas in the Gates of Hell.

Well Rodin, I think impressed me because

he was philosophical.

You know, you can make a figure,

like I can sculpt a human figure and it is a figure.

But you can also make a figure as he did,

that points beyond itself.

Like the thinker isn't just a guy sitting there,

it's this idea embodied and it's an embodiment

of someone who's thinking,

it's something beyond just the figure itself.

(calm soft music)

He put in seeds of ideas.

And then they grew over time because he worked on it

from when he was 40 years old,

in 1880 until he died in 1917.

So he was always in process.

And some of these, you see them in various stages

of development.

You saw the fragment could represent the whole.

So that when it's all put together it's something different.

Rodin had friends and people around them, literary people,

and philosophers and people they talk.

And he had that in his work, the thinker's the best example

it's become a symbol for thinking.

So when I wanted to do a piece like Rodin,

I wanted to come up with something philosophical.

This philosophy is very important to me.

And I thought what's a great idea to work on.

And freedom was the idea that I wanted to tackle.

- [Jim] That piece lives just a few blocks

from Philadelphia's Rodin museum.

It depicts a figure developing and slowly becoming free.

It's repeatedly been named

pieces of contemporary public art.

(upbeat music)

- I knew almost everybody wants freedom.

And if I could get to the deepest part of me

that wants freedom and I could share with other people

it would, I could find something that we all have in common

a universal primordial sense

of wanting to escape from something.

It's the self-development that gets you free.

And so the first figure is very broad

and it doesn't have a lot of development literally.

And you can see the figure develops more and more focus,

even so that the last figure that's coming out of the wall,

is almost a fully developed figure,

but it's not totally developed

because we're all still developing.

We're all in process till we die.

So it only has one nipples to the two.

It has, you know, part of the back isn't finished.

It's still rough.

For me as a sculptor,

I also as a, you know, I wanted to show

the process of sculpting.

When I do a piece like "the freedom sculpture"

that's a summation of who I am up to that point.

To some degree there's a lot,

for that piece for example, my father is in it,

my mother is in it,

and it's a piece that's autobiographical.

This is a cat I had for 20 years.

This is a cast of my fingers.

And here's a little female figure with a grave.

You could do some things in art

that you can't do in real life.

This is my mother kind of unfinished.

This is my father over here.

And he was kind of a person who was bipolar.

And I kind of wanted to show him with a fracture

and I took a wax of his head and I broke it.

This is actual cast of my hand holding a sculpture tool.

This became for me a kind of fertile garden

where I could just try pieces here

and try them there and see what felt right.

- [Jim] Zenos Frudakis grew up in the Midwest.

His father immigrated from Greece in the early 1900s

to escape a bloody conflict between Christians and Muslims

on the Island of Crete.

He worked in coal mines,

and suffered severe facial damage in an explosion.

He was 60, 30 years older than his wife Cuss Yani

when for Frudakis was born.

It was a tense paternal relationship.

Frudakis says his father ones chased him out of the house

at gunpoint.

Another time he says, he dangled him over bridge railing

to win an argument with his wife.

- He didn't talk to me. He didn't answer questions.

So I had to figure out, what am I doing here?

You know, I'm thrusted to the world.

I didn't have any answers.

I didn't, they all, they spoke Greek at home

as the first language.

My first language was almost nonverbal, I was drawing.

I had a babysitter I remember who drew a face

and she had two noses on it.

And I looked at the person, people around me I'm thinking,

I'm a little kid.

I was almost an infant.

I'm thinking, no, they don't look like they have two noses.

And I didn't know the words but I drew a face to show her

because I wanted to check it.

And I drew one nose and then she marveled at it.

My mother loved everything I did.

My mother made bread

and I would take the dough as a little boy

and under the table and make little figures.

And she would put them in the oven

and cook them for me and I was sculpting.

She thought everything I did was great.

And my father, he didn't say it.

I think it was almost as if he thought he would spoil me.

I'd have to work hard.

But other people told me, especially years later

that he would go to the Greek coffee house

and he would show all the men my drawings.

I would find drawings missing from a booklet

that I, I used to draw every day for a couple hours

to practice as a child.

He would take my drawings

and I find them sometimes in his pocket, in his coat.

And take them and show them to other people.

But he couldn't tell me that.

- [Jim] Even though his father was low

on support and encouragement,

Frudakis continued to explore and hone his skills

by looking to those who had come before him.

Finding motivation in the work of other artists

such as Michelangelo.

While a student at the University of Pennsylvania,

he studied anatomy by examining cadavers.

And this understanding of the details of the body,

has been a key component of his work.

But even with this attention to physical form,

his intention he says is never to create

some sort of glorified mannequin.

- Okay I can show off how well I can do a head

or figure how well I know anatomy.

The science part is interesting to me.

And that part is stimulating.

I mean, I look for a balance and having that,

the rational and for me that's the science part

of doing the figure that I know the anatomy

and that I research Ben Franklin.

I listen to books about him while I'm working

and that kind of thing.

Then there's the, the emotional, the irrational

the part that's more intuitive and creative.

And that part has to be there too.

You have to have a balance of both.

If you get too much form, too much of the rational

a piece can get static.

It can be a little cold and distant.

You have to have heart.

And then that's the other part it's the emotion

if it's too much of the emotional it's like our therapy.

It's not enough, it has to also reach an audience.

If it's too much of the emotional,

there's a lack of that order that we find satisfying

because we don't wanna be in a life with disorder.

(shoes clacking)

- [Jim] Sometimes for Frudakis,

that order comes out of tension.

As in his sculpture of the seminal American musician

and civil rights activists Nina Simone.

The piece was to be installed in her hometown,

Tryon, North Carolina.

But it was at point of contention with the townspeople,

as Nina Simone had been outspoken

about how the Jim Crow laws affected her growing up

in that racially segregated town.

As word spread of the Simone sculpture,

many people there so it has a slight to the town's history,

a critique of its past.

- They resented her

because they felt that she had bad mouthed the town.

And she had said some things about the town

because there was a lot of racism,

that maybe they didn't experience growing up

but she experienced it.

And she experienced it very young.

I mean very young when she played the piano

at a public gathering and her parents

sat in front row to hear her,

and they were told to go sit in the back.

And she is a little girl got up and said,

"I'm not playing if they don't sit in the front."

There was about a third of the town.

I was told the third might not want it.

A third would probably be indifferent,

and a third wanted it.

So I didn't want it removed.

There were people while I was installing it

there were people who drove by in their pickup trucks

and yelled out the window.

- [Jim] Yet Frudakis was undaunted in his commitment

to honor Simone,

for all she'd achieved as a musician,

and for her role in the civil rights movement.

She was mentored by Langston Hughes and James Baldwin.

And when on meeting Martin Luther King she declared,

"I'm not nonviolent."

He replied, "not to worry sister."

Her songs would become a soundtrack for that dark period.

Old Jim Crow.

♪ Old Jim Crow,

♪ Where you been baby

♪ Down Mississippi back again

♪ Oh Jim Crow don't you know

♪ it's all over now

To be young, gifted and black.

♪ In the whole world you know

♪ There's a billion boys and girls ♪

♪ Who are young gifted and black ♪

Backlash blues with lyric spine Langston Hughes.

♪ You ran my taxes freeze my wages ♪

♪ And send my son to Vietnam

♪ You give me second class houses ♪

♪ And second class schools

♪ Do you think that all the colored folks ♪

♪ Are just second class fools

♪ Mr Backlash

All of these songs became rallying cries for change,

but keeping her sculpture in Tryon

would require a different kind of creativity

from its maker.

- I knew that she had been cremated

and I was working with her daughter

and I asked her daughter who is also a singer.

"Do you have any more of her ashes?"

And she said she did after she had spread some

she still had some.

I wanna create a bronze heart.

I'm gonna do it in clay and then cast it in bronze.

I'd like to pour ashes into the heart

and then weld them into her chest in the bronze.

I thought also if I make it her grave in a sense

that it would be very difficult to move her grave.

There was a point where someone from newspapers

there called and said,

"you know, they're talking about moving it

what do you think?"

And I said, "well, they're gonna be moving her grave."

Her ashes are in the sculpture.

And then it became a place for people to go

to almost like visiting a grave.

I just thought it was more meaningful that way

and to have her, in a way it brought her home.

I wanted to create a sculpture for it to be a healing piece.

I think it to a larger degree has become that.

And I think even many of the people

who weren't sure they wanted it,

have, from what I've heard, have gotten used to it.

And they're glad to have it now.

- [Jim] And so, instead of representing

the town's ugly past,

Frudakis' sculpture of Nina Simone,

would become something to the town's younger citizens,

and her fans could rally around.

♪ I wish I knew how

♪ It would feel to be free

♪ I wish I could break

♪ All the chains holding me

♪ I wish I could say

♪ All the things that I should say ♪

♪ Say them aloud say them clear ♪

♪ For the whole round world to hear. ♪

Years later in 2017 Frudakis found himself once again

caught between the town's intentions

and his belief that sculpture could say something profound.

Outside the county court house in Dayton, Tennessee

stood a sculpture of William Jennings Bryan,

the successful prosecutor in the notorious

Scopes Monkey Trial a 1925 case

that found a high school teacher

guilty of breaking state law by teaching evolution.

The existence of his statue was a point of tension,

but instead of wanting it removed,

Frudakis believed that he could help tell the full story

by creating a statue of Clarence Darrow,

the lawyer who had defended the teacher's right

to explain evolution.

- It was a public space really religion and politics

shouldn't be mixed like that.

And that bothered me

and somebody had brought it to my attention

that the statue was there.

And I thought, it's going to be hard to remove it.

I thought it would be more meaningful,

if I could add a sculpture of Clarence Darrow there

And that way would redefine the sculpture

as a historical piece rather than a religious expression.

Before my sculpture was there,

I was sitting in my car in the parking lot

at the courthouse.

And I saw school children come with their teacher

and she showed them the William Jennings Bryan sculpture

and then they started to leave.

And I jumped out of the car and I ran across the field

and I said, "wait, wait, wait,

there's more to the other half of this story.

You haven't heard about Clarence Darrow."

Cause there was nothing there.

And she said, "well tell us about it."

And so I told the kids about it.

And after they left and they thanked me I thought,

I can't sit in the car,

in the parking lot for the rest of my life

and jump out every time someone comes,

you know classroom and educate them.

But if I put up a sculpture of Clarence Darrow,

it'll be there, they'll have to address it.

It'll be historical,

and the town was pretty good about putting it in.

There was a little, there were some elements,

there were some people-

- Well it wasn't. - Threatened my life.

- Right, well, there was that.

I mean the time by and large,

but there was somebody who actually

said she was going to shoot you.

- Yeah she said she had a surprise for me,

and she was on the cover of the wall street journal

with her shotgun.

And she was a minister,

so I guess she wasn't gonna throw the book at me,

but she was going, the good book,

she was going to, she said she had a surprise for me.

I, that concerned me a little,

because whether she was gonna do that or not,

somebody else who was even a less rational

may have shown up with a deer rifle in a scope on it and.

So someone, a friend of mine hired a bodyguard,

an armed bodyguard for the unveiling.

And we told people we're putting it in at nine o'clock.

And my foundry people got in at seven and put it in,

'cause they didn't wanna be shot at either.

- [Jim] The Darrow sculpture was about more than history.

Frudakis also felt it was a way to fight against what he saw

as a developing suspicion of science.

Three years earlier,

another of his sculptures "knowledge is power"

showed two unnamed educators holding a book,

from which Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin emerged.

For Frudakis who subscribes to no religious doctrine.

That pursuit is at the heart of the unifying vision

of humanity that drives much of his work.

He believes that sculptures can encapsulate the complexities

and contradictions that make people who they are.

They can be more than a snapshot of a pose,

at their best, they're records of a lifetime

and of the relationships between people and the world.

Frudakis learnt this lesson early

with one of his first sculptures, a rendering of his father.

- I was very conscious that, I wanted to experience him,

I wanted to really see him.

And when you're sculpting somebody,

you see things you don't notice in real life.

I really saw his glass eye

from the mining accident he was in when he was posing.

I saw the scars on his face.

I saw the powder, the dark marks in his face

that got into his skin that he carried for when he was 19

and now he was 80 something

when he posed for me.

Having him pose it really is like,

you're going through kind of a landscape

And you're learning it by walking through it.

And that's what I did by having him pose.

I really wanted to remember him

cause I knew I wouldn't have him that long.

He was old pretty old at that point.

I was just learning sculpture cause it was my first piece.

But I didn't wanna wait until I mastered it

before I did him because he wasn't going to be there.

And I wanted to do it while he was still alive.

- [Jim] When his father died,

Frudakis sought out a way to reconcile the loss of the man

with whom he had had such a fraught relationship.

- I put my grief into the sculpture

and I also sculpted a figure that I call

"grief or weeping willow."

It's a bent over female figure

I wanted to shape that grief

and into something that was acceptable.

Maybe again from that culture,

I wasn't permitted to cry and be that upset...

So I wanted to give it form.

And this was a way to organize and order my grief

and to make it something more universal and beautiful.

I think I was putting myself into the sculpture,

I was putting my grief for him,

I was putting my feelings, but in a way

that I wanted other people to feel something too.

See I don't wanna be alone in my grief.

(calm soft music)

- [Jim] For Zenos Frudakis bronze and clay are a language

for thinking about the world.

And just as a thought or a feeling can change with time,

Frudakis knows a sculpture can too.

He's even considered redoing freedom,

his most well-known piece,

updated and informed by the time that's passed

since he made it 20 years ago.

- I'm different and I think that the way I created the piece

the four figures are something that as you drove by,

you can see at a glance,

that there's a struggle to break free.

Then there's a lot of detail in there.

I would keep that part, the struggle to break free.

Because you need, to show freedom

you have to show trapped figure,

you have to show the transition and show struggle.

And I think that if I did it again

it would be nice to make a piece

and I could do this with the freedom in different ways.

I could do for example,

a piece that had more to do with political freedom

or the American revolution and history

and that kind of thing, and put, make it more historical

or and that would be like, you wouldn't see that at first

you'd have to get up close to see those details.

Or it could be, maybe it has to do with people

who've been jailed because of their conscious

like Socrates and Mandela and others.

But freedom is something people want all over the world.

I mean, I get a lot of the emails,

I get it from the Middle East and from Iran in particular,

from young people.

And I think it's because maybe they don't wanna stand up

and say, "we want freedom," but they can say,

"we love the sculpture freedom."

- [Jim] Through over 100 statues and sculptures

in every corner of the world,

Zenos Frudakis has tried to understand

and convey the joys and challenges of living

and in doing so has elevated the ideas

and feelings that we all share.

- Even though you are seeing, what's really there.

What you're creating is kind of an intersection between you

and the world around you.

Like if I sculpted you, it wouldn't be just you.

And it's part of me too.

It's almost like, you know, a child you're having

with someone else.

You're bringing yourself and the other person

and there's that overlap.

And the overlap is the sculpture between the two.

(calm soft music)

- [Jim] For more Articulate, find us on social media

or on our website,

On the next articulate Maren Alsop

is one of the foremost conductors in the world.

She got there by helping change the classical music world.

- We have to acknowledge that women were really,

almost kept out of this profession.

There were talented women that weren't acknowledged

and there are dozens and probably hundreds of women

who missed that window of opportunity.

- [Jim] Ian Bostridge has like many been enraptured

with Franz Schubert's Winterreise for decades.

The British tenor has found that the centuries old

song cycle is just as effervescent and relevant as it was

when it was first composed.

- It's a criticism of consumerist society,

with the desire to possess stuff.

- [Jim] I'm Jim Cotter, join us for the next Articulate.

At a time when we are reassessing, what is truly valuable.

Our most precious asset might be imagination.

It allows us to envision a better world,

to wonder what if.

That simple fearless question,

has forever driven the world's greatest innovators.

Articulate brings you some of today's

most creative thinkers,

to explore how they can help us better understand our world.

Articulate, ask yourself what if.

(orchestral calm music)

- [Narrator] Articulate with Jim Cotter is made possible

with generous funding from the Neubauer family foundation.

(bright music)


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