Sculptor Makes Three Sets Of Presidential Busts

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David Adickes has fashioned 18-foot tall busts of all of the U.S. presidents. One set sits in his yard in Houston. Another is in a closed theme park in Deadwood, S.D. And the third is in another defunct theme park in Williamsburg, Va.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

If you're planning a road trip this summer and you've exhausted the usual roadside attractions, here's another prospect. It involves the American presidents and some yet to be achieved artistic dreams.

NPR's Art Silverman tells us about that attraction, which you might be able to see someday.

ART SILVERMAN: If you like your U.S. presidents big - and who doesn't? Then you'll love what a sculptor from Texas has created.

David Adickes felt he could improve on Mount Rushmore's presidential quartet, by fashioning busts of all the U.S. presidents, 18-foot tall busts. And he's made three sets of them - all the presidents' heads. One set just sits in his yard in Houston. Another is in a closed theme park in Deadwood, South Dakota. And a third is in a defunct theme park in Williamsburg, Virginia.

You ask: What's the problem here? Isn't America ready for some massive Easter Island-style figures of its beloved leaders? The answer is: In these times, people are not ready to part with hard cash to glimpse enormous representations of their chief executives.

So let's step back. First, let's meet the man with the dream.

Mr. DAVID ADICKES (Sculptor): My name is David Adickes. I'm a sculptor and a painter also.

SILVERMAN: And he has degrees in math and physics, which helped in this project. That's because first he had to create life-size models of the presidents and then figure out a way to cast them 10 times bigger.

But let's go back to the beginning of the story, if you can call this a story, back to the '90s. That's when the Adickes took a summer vacation in Canada. On the way back, he saw Mount Rushmore for the first time. He was overwhelmed by the majesty of those four presidents...

Mr. ADICKES: But disappointed that I couldn't get closer to it.

SILVERMAN: He wanted them to be approachable. So starting in 1997, using his own money, he began work.

(Soundbite of music, "Hail to the Chief")

SILVERMAN: To make the presidential heads, Adickes did a lot of research. He found portraits, drawings, photographs of the leaders to work from. First, he made those regular-sized models. The finished products were made of concrete over steel armature, and they were painted off-white.

Adickes says Abraham Lincoln was the easiest to sculpt. On the other hand...

Mr. ADICKES: The hardest one was Jerry Ford, because he has sort of a square face with eyes and so forth that aren't really that unusual.

SILVERMAN: Even though Jerry Ford nearly tripped him up, five years later, he had it: three sets of 18-foot busts of U.S. presidents. He built them, but not enough people came.

As for the set in South Dakota, there are now plans to reassemble them closer to Mount Rushmore and hopefully draw more business. The Williamsburg site, well, it shut down last fall. To the rescue comes Lawrence A. Creeger.

Ms. LAWRENCE A. CREEGER (President, American Constitution Spirit Foundation): If we can just get kids today to get interested in a few of the presidents, I would love that.

SILVERMAN: Creeger runs the American Constitution Spirit Foundation in Richmond, Virginia. He's been trying to promote the nation's founding documents and information about the presidents.

When the Williamsburg site folded, his first thought was to buy them and move them to a theme park he had in the works in New Orleans. But then he thought about his own roots.

Mr. CREEGER: I'm a Virginian, and I really believe that this park belongs in Virginia.

SILVERMAN: Creeger figures people go to Williamsburg to see the Colonial period re-enacted. A presidential theme park picks up the story from there. And he says visitors are in for a treat, as he was when he first laid eyes on the statues.

Mr. CREEGER: I was extremely impressed with them once I saw them in person. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, both Roosevelts are exceedingly well-done. I had a little problem with Richard Nixon.

SILVERMAN: In other words, Nixon was tricky to render. By the way, you won't find Barack Obama's humongous concrete and steel bust in Williamsburg. He hadn't been elected when the park was established. And later, the owners just couldn't afford it.

But Adickes made one for himself, and there's one in South Dakota. So, if your screaming car of kids wants to see 18-foot-busts of the presidents, please be patient. From my reading of the situation, now's a little early to pack your bags.

Art Silverman, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music, "Hail to the Chief")

BLOCK: ALL THINGS CONSIDERED continues right after this.

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