Rare exhibit by a Catholic sculptor opens at USC

COLUMBIA — South Carolinians will have the opportunity to view a rare exhibit of art by Frederick Hart, one of America’s greatest figurative sculptors, at the University of South Carolina.

“Frederick Hart: A Celebration of Spirit” opened Sept. 29 in McKissick Museum and remains on display through Jan. 20. This unprecedented showing of Hart’s work will feature 20 of the artist’s acrylic, bronze and marble dust/resin sculptures.

The exhibit also will feature nearly two dozen photo and text panels to tell the story of a boy who was raised in post-World War II Conway, was accepted to USC in the ninth grade because of his exceptional test scores and went on to create some of the nation’s most magnificent sculptures. Among these are “Three Soldiers” at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the monumental bas relief “Creation,” which frames the entrance of the west facade to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Hart, a Catholic convert, credited much of his inspiration and focus in his works to his faith.

Joan Hinde Stewart, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said the university is fortunate to be able to share an exhibit of Hart’s work with students and the state.

“Traveling exhibitions of Frederick Hart’s work have been rare,” said Stewart.

A native of Atlanta, Hart was born in 1943 and came to South Carolina at age 3 to live with an aunt in Conway after his mother died. By age 16, he had dropped out of high school and was accepted to USC, where he studied for one semester. He then moved to Washington, D.C., to continue his studies and work as an apprentice, including several years at the National Cathedral.

Hart’s interest in, and passion for, representational and figurative sculpture was not popular among artists of his generation, who were drawn to abstract art. His vision, skill and artistry were more reminiscent of Rodin and the great Italian sculptors of centuries past than of his contemporaries.

Early in his career, Hart experimented with clear acrylic resin, wanting to apply classical principles of sculpting and figurative design to a contemporary media. Hart said he was attracted to clear acrylic resin because of its translucent qualities and spiritual nature.

One of the greatest examples of Hart’s acrylic works is “The Cross of the Millennium,” a magnificent crucifix that he unveiled in 1992 in celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church. Five years later, Hart presented a unique casting of the one-third life-sized “The Cross of the Millennium” to Pope John Paul II in Rome. A cast acrylic of the sculpture will be featured in the university’s exhibition.

Hart returned to the Columbia school in 1993 to receive an honorary degree. He died at the age of 56 in 1999.

McKissick Museum, under the auspices of USC’s College of Liberal Arts, is located on USC’s historic Horseshoe. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information, call (803) 777-7251 or visit the Web site: www.cla.sc.edu/Hart.html.