The Sculptor's Vision
Sculptor Chris Hill has previously created a bust portrait of Marion Barry, and a seven foot tall Harriet Tubman statue at Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He faced a particular challenge in creating the Jennie Dean statue because only one photo of Jennie Dean exists, and that photo is a head and shoulders image. He immersed himself in period research and the Jennie Dean story to create a more compelling work. Here is his interpretation of the sculpture:
"Jennie Dean was, above all, an altruist determined to elevate the welfare of her people through education, faith and tradesmanship. In order to convey this, I have designed Jennie Dean with an outstretched hand reaching towards viewers, as if inviting to lift them up. Her forward leg is bracing for the viewer to take her hand. She is bent slightly at the waist in order to lower her hand within reach. Her hand will be approximately eye level with the viewer. Her left arm is outstretched, forming a clear line between the head, the heart, and the hand. These are the three parts of the body Jennie Dean had wished to strengthen through academic education, participation in faith services, and training in trade and industry. Over time, I hope that people will take her hand and wear away its patina. When this hand begins to polish and shine, it will reflect the engagement Jennie Dean continues to inspire in the community.
Her forward movement symbolizes the progress she made in overcoming challenges, and creates a dynamic pose with tension and flow from all sides of the sculpture. The ball of her back foot is seated on the base, but her heel is raised, suggesting her forward motion. She is in stride with her dress flowing behind her in such a way that it breaks into the space surrounding the sculpture. The hexagonal base will be adorned with six bronze reliefs of classroom scenes illustrating trades taught at the school.
Although Jennie Dean is seated in her only known photograph, this pose would not convey who she was. A seated pose would suggest she was an observer or witness to the world around her, a pose better suited for a judge or for something more monumental like the Lincoln Memorial. Because the Jennie Dean sculpture is to be viewed in the round--unlike a seated sculpture that is typically viewed from the front only--I wanted to create a statue that engages the viewer, is in forward motion, and is visually interesting from all sides. I believe these design considerations will create an engaging Jennie Dean Memorial sculpture, and encourage viewers to learn about Jennie Dean and the impact she had. My hope is that this landmark will not only be a focal point for the community Jennie Dean served, but also draw in new visitors to this historic site," Hill says.
Christopher Hill is the son of a bronze sculptor and ceramicist, spending most of his childhood in studios and foundries. Growing up in these creative environments enabled him to explore his imagination and creativity. Most notably, he modeled two bears for Missouri State University, a bust portrait of Marion Barry, and a 7’ tall Harriet Tubman at Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
He earned a BFA at Salisbury University and an MFA from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He worked for an art restoration company in Fairfax and now works for a museum exhibit company in Manassas. Since 2014, he has volunteered with the Manassas Museum, assisting with exhibits. He lives in Bristow, Virginia with his wife and daughter.