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W.Va. servicewoman statue ready for her post

Nov. 11, 2010 @ 11:33 AM

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The bronze sculpture of a female war veteran that has been mired in controversy since its inception has been set upon its concrete core at the state Capitol Complex.

She stands about 50 feet from the West Virginia Veterans Memorial on the west lawn, where her four brothers in arms - a Marine representing the Vietnam War, an airman representing the Korean War, a sailor representing World War II and a soldier representing World War I - stand in limestone enclaves.

The four statues also are her brothers in another way because all were sculpted by Charleston artist Joe Mullins, who was on hand Tuesday morning when the 750-pound sculpture was hoisted from the back of a truck to the 9-foot-tall concrete core. Workers from A.R.T. Research Enterprises in Lancaster, Pa., manned the crane that lifted the sculpture and set it upon the core. Long bolts were used to secure her to the concrete base.

The 69-year-old Mullins, who designed the veterans memorial, said he had been concerned that the statue would never find her home at the Capitol because of the controversy that erupted when the statue’s design was unveiled in 2003. The main objection against the statue came from some female veterans who served in World War II and Korea, who insisted upon the statue “appearing more feminine” in a dress uniform wearing a skirt, he said.

The artist said the statue was sculpted using the same patina, the film covering the bronze, and is the same height as the four male sculptures at the war memorial meaning she too will turn a chalky gray color after time. He said the only difference between his work on those sculptures and his work on the female sculpture was the backlash from the older female veterans.

“Toward the end of this one there were about 1,000 surly detractors bent on changing the design,” Mullins said. “There’s a whole half a lifetime of political underpinning with this sculpture.

“This thing was like a lightning rod for a whole lot of little special interest groups, but she’s here now,” he said referring to the statue. “She’ll still be standing here in 700 years if the Capitol building is gone.”

The sculpture is undoubtedly female and looks every bit like the thousands of women serving in today’s military. Her time period, he said, was to be about 10 years ago around the time of the beginning of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is the only female statue on the Capitol grounds.

She stands in a relaxed pose holding a flagpole that will eventually bear a flag or pennant, though it hasn’t been determined whether that flag will be bronze or fabric. She wears a T-shirt tucked into fatigue pants, which are creased and bloused over her combat boots. She also carries a utility belt strapped with various pouches and her hair, pulled into a bun, is tucked under her field cap.

Her jaw shows off hard lines, giving her a serious edge, but her body carries subtle curves while still showing off an athletic physique. She doesn’t represent any particular branch of the military, as her clothes are commonly worn in all branches.

“She tells future generations that this is what our generation, the current generation, thought women serving in the military should look like,” Mullins said.

Mullins said the initial concerns that the sculpture was too masculine came when the design was unveiled in his Hansford Street studio in 2003. He said walking up close to the 8-foot-tall statue in a closed setting might result in the appearance that the soldier is less than feminine simply because of her size.

“The difficult things here were keeping the proportions correct as it increased in size and keeping it alive so that it didn’t end up looking like a cigar store Indian,” Mullins said. “You want them to look alive and buoyant not rigid and tense.”

The artist pointed to the sculpture’s feet, noting that her toes were slightly angled upward, giving the effect that she’s on the move. The feet on the sculptures at the war memorial are the same.

While it took a year to sculpt the statue, with the help of studio assistant Bob Browning, it would be several years later when she was finally bronzed. He wanted to wait until her placement was set at the Capitol Complex before he bronzed her.

Mullins, an Army veteran himself who served during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, said designing the war memorial and sculpting the statues that pay tribute to those who served and those who died justified his life as an artist.

“It’s a great honor, it truly is,” he said. “There’s 10,000 names in there and each one of them was someone’s son, someone’s lover, someone’s friend, caught forever in youth.

“There’s at least three people’s names in there who were better sculptors than I am and that’s the truth.”

The work on the statue is complete but now the attention will turn to her base. Limestone and granite, set to be delivered in the coming days, will be laid upon the base. Four bronze bas-relief style plaques depicting servicewomen of different eras will be set upon the sides of the base.

A dedication date for the statue has not yet been set but there has been speculation of Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.