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Historic Figures in Costume Inspire Virginia Women’s Monument Sculptor

The female actors that walked into the Brooklyn office of StudioEIS weren’t there to audition for a role in a film or television show. They were there to help sculptor Ivan Schwartz create the twelve bronze statues of the women in the Virginia Women’s Monument, Voices from the Garden, which will be dedicated in October.

The monument represents the unrecognized voices of Virginia women who helped shape the culture, country, and the Commonwealth for over four hundred years. Each of the bronze sculptures will be a unique work of art.

A sought-after sculptor, painter and founder of StudioEIS, Schwartz would have hired re-enactors if the sculptures were similar to the forensic sculptures he did for George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens. But these sculptures have a different vibe.

“If you think about the imagery you associate with famous people, they are stiff,” he says. “I wanted to do something that when you came into the plaza you would walk out with a different sense of who these people were.”

Schwartz purposefully recruited actors so he could capture the subtlety of their gestures and facial expressions. Usually he directs his shoots but this time he hired a theatrical director, allowing Schwartz to sit on the sideline and figure out the placement of the figures on the plaza. “The shoot was designed to give a sense of location of the figures,” he says.

Sculptor Ivan Schwartz has a reputation for displaying the nation’s famous figures. He’s shown here with his brother Elliot (left).

The actors wore period costumes and were roughly the same age, ethnicity and height and weight as the twelve women in the monument. Schwartz sees it as his job to not only be authentic to the women being honored but to also “activate the past and make it exciting so visitors will be enlightened by the sculptures and the artistry,” he says of having every detail precise. “I don’t want old-fashioned sculptures.”

During the shoot, the director spent time with each actor and photographed each individually for two days. On the third day, all of the women were photographed at the same time. Schwartz and his team spent a great deal of time after the photography shoot selecting their favorite two or three poses. Those poses were digitally scanned before being sent out for 3-D printing.

“Machines will produce two sets of models at ten to twelve inches each,” Schwartz says. “We will build a new working model of the plaza.”

This isn’t the first time he has worked with the Commonwealth. His work for the Virginia Capitol Foundation on the bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson in the underground annex of the Capitol segued into his work on the women’s monument. He started visualizing the new monument before he submitted his proposal to the Women’s Monument Commission and the Virginia Capitol Foundation.

“This is the biggest project at this level that we have ever done,” Schwartz says. “We have done larger projects but this one is different because we are taking people who represent four centuries and putting them in the same space. We have to make logic out of why these people are all in the same space being honored.”

Knowing what each woman contributed to society made the project more exciting, he adds. “This is a huge deal.”


The monument, which will be dedicated in October 2019, will feature statues of:

Anne Burras Laydon
Mary Draper Ingles
Martha Washington
Clementina Rind
Elizabeth Keckly
Sally L. Tompkins
Maggie L. Walker
Sarah G. Jones
Laura S. Copenhaver
Virginia E. Randolph
Adèle Clark

The Virginia Capitol Foundation recently announced that the first four statues have been commissioned to be cast in bronze (Cockacoeske, Anne Burras Laydon, Virginia E. Randolph and Adele Clark). For details, go here. For more on the women being honored in The Virginia Women’s Monument: Voices from the Garden, visit this link link on the Virginia Capitol Foundation website.  

Watch the short video StudioEIS created about the photo shoot for the Virginia Women’s Monument.

An award-winning writer based in Richmond, Joan Tupponce is a parent, grandparent, and self-admitted Disney freak. She writes about anything and everything and enjoys meeting inspiring people and telling their stories. Joan’s work has appeared in RFM since the magazine’s first issue in October 2009. Look for original and exclusive online articles about Richmond-area people, places, and ideas at Just Joan: RVA Storyteller.

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