For the past two years, Sculptor Sarah Hempel Irani and a team led by the Frederick Art Club have worked tirelessly to bring Frederick a bronze statue of renowned fashion designer Claire McCardell. It will be unveiled to the public on October 17th at its permanent location in Carroll Creek Linear Park.
But his installation is bigger than Sarah, bigger than Claire, and bigger than Frederick.
Since the statue is reminiscent of a historical figure, it also makes history itself, a tangible statement that shows the direction in which public art is moving as more and more women are recognized, commemorated, celebrated and ultimately immortalized through sculpture.
The Frederick Art Club commissioned the project to honor the female artists in Frederick. They chose Claire McCardell, an iconic fashion designer born (and buried) in Frederick who was decades ahead of her time. In the 1930s and 40s, she offered women an alternative to stiff dresses that were difficult to move in, and sometimes experimented by disassembling her brother’s clothes and reworking them at a young age. McCardell then created comfortable casual wear, sportswear, matching items, bags and ballet flats, and placed side zippers and buttons on the front of the clothing that made it easy for women to get dressed.
When the Frederick Art Club started the Claire McCardell Project in March 2019, it quickly became clear how few women are represented in statues. For example, they learned that the only female statues in New York’s Central Park at the time depicted fictional characters such as Alice in Wonderland (since then the city has erected a bronze memorial by women suffrage activists to honor more historical female figures).
“This is really political in many ways,” said Hempel Irani. “Only seven percent of the sculptures in America – the actual people – are by women.”
When Linda Moran, chair of the Claire McCardell Project Steering Committee, reached out to the Maryland Public Art Commission to see what to do to get the statue approved, she was told there were only about six public art statues in DC by Women there. Baltimore metropolitan area.
Frederick is now among other cities across the country “breaking through the bronze ceiling” by bringing more diversity to public art.
“There was so much emotion in it and it was just incredibly proud to be part of the movement to ‘break the bronze ceiling’,” said Marilyn Bagel, President of the Frederick Art Club. “This is just a ‘pinch me’ moment for me – and for all of us. It’s like a baby after 2 1/2 years of pregnancy. We have already talked about the places where we will howl during the unveiling. “
On a late summer daywho have favourited Claire McCardell statue was ready to come home after spending six months at a foundry in Loveland, Colorado where it was cast in bronze.
Hempel Irani got into the family’s pickup truck with her husband and daughter and a 680-pound, 7.5-foot Claire in the back, and they set out on the three-day, 1,680-mile journey back to Maryland.
“It was surreal to have them there,” said Hempel Irani. “It was part epic road trip, part work trip for Hempel Studios. Every time we stopped at a gas station, of course, people would ask, ‘What on earth is this?’ To tell people about the woman who gave us bags … that’s really great. “
Bringing the statue home was the final stage in a long and arduous process that began with Hempel Irani hand sculpting the piece in her studio at Griffin Art Center in downtown Frederick.
McCardell’s outfit changed a few times when Hempel Irani was working on her, and some small details were adjusted along the way when Hempel Irani met with the Frederick Art Club to show progress and get feedback.
“Claire kept popping up and popping up and popping up, and Sarah was so sensitive and molded her with so much integrity – from her details, to her flair for design, to her sense of elegance and functionality,” said Linda Moran, chairwoman of the Project Steering Committee.
Hempel Irani based the dress on a photo she found in the Hood College archives. In the sculpture, McCardell wears one of her signature designs: matching individual pieces with a buttoned front and side press studs on her skirt, with huge pockets and a flared collar. Hempel Irani had the dress in the photo handcrafted using the same sewing techniques used in the 1940s when McCardell designed it and worn by a living model when she was working on the sculpture.
After creating a small model out of clay, she created the larger than life version. When it was finished and approved, she drove the clay sculpture – in sections – to Baltimore to have a mold made. Her husband Erik would later drive it to the Colorado foundry in a Uhaul.
Pouring the sculpture in bronze is a complicated process in and of itself. A wax version of the statue is dipped in a porcelain slip, sanded repeatedly, placed in a huge kiln to fire the porcelain, then the mold is placed in sand troughs and finally bronze is poured, which resembles molten lava. The bronze is about 2,000 degrees. After it has cooled for a few days, they knock it off with a hammer, clean the bronze, weld all the pieces together, and make sure all the seams look good. Then it is sandblasted.
“All of this stuff is made by hand, just as the Greeks essentially did,” said Hempel Irani.
McCardell was revolutionary in its design, and women around the world continue to wear everyday designs that she pioneered.
“She is so well known in the fashion industry internationally, but a lot of women who wear the fashion that is the result of her original designs don’t really know her,” said Bagel. “Her lineage wasn’t continued after her death, so it’s not like the Chanel house that has its generations of legacies. It’s just kind of faded. And yet its effect was so profound. It’s the reason we wear items, why we have comfortable sportswear, why we have bags, why we wear ballet flats. Their effect was just so extraordinary. “
McCardell was born in Frederick and was persuaded by her father to go to Hood College to study home economics, which she did. But the urge to go to New York City and study fashion persisted, and after two years in Hood she went to the big city to study at Parsons, then known as the New York School of Fine and Applied Art. Soon then she found her way to Paris and her career as a fashion designer – and her reputation for innovative women’s clothing – continued to grow. In fact, she was one of the first American designers known by name.
The Second World War also had a major impact on their work. A lack of certain fabrics and materials drove them to new ideas. Her ballerinas were created during this time when there was a leather shortage. McCardell turned to Capezio to design flat shoes that would go well with her clothes, that were more casual, and that had more movement. She wanted to create a casual look from head to toe.
McCardell continued to design clothes and win awards for her work until she died of colon cancer at the age of 52. Although she spent the last part of her life in New York, she is buried in her family grave in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick.
“We are very pleased to bring them to their rightful place in Frederick,” said Bagel. “Lots of people said it was time.”
Undoubtedly, the new sculpture Friedrich cancels aesthetically, culturally and historically.
In addition to Hempel Irani, the team behind the new piece consists almost entirely of women, from the project steering committee to the Frederick Art Club itself. Sharon Poole was hired as landscape architect and created the space along Carroll Creek that will house the sculpture with a great eye for detail to the bricks that mimick a pattern used in one of McCardell’s designs. The landscape is completed with benches and seasonal flowers. Irene Kirilloff created the signposting that provides historical information about McCardell on site for those who want to learn more.
The statue is said to be a target. The team envisions young students visiting it on field trips, stopping art classes there to sketch, occasional events or on-site art talks, and visitors including them on their walks around town to see public works of art.
The Frederick Art Club believes it will serve as an introduction for people who don’t know who McCardell was, and maybe she will inspire others to follow their dreams like she did.
The all-women club behind the project started in Frederick more than 124 years ago and is still one of the few surviving clubs of its kind in America to this day. Long before and long after McCardell lived here, members met to bring more art and culture to Frederick. Today there are more than 100 women in the group.
Hempel Irani first found out about the club when Becky Griffin, longtime benefactress of the arts in Frederick, invited her to brunch with the club.
“They are women who brunch, but they are also women who quietly kick their asses, which I love,” said Hempel Irani. “You really do create things.”
The club had never done a project of this magnitude before, and yet they never thought that when they came up with the idea of bringing a statue of Claire McCardell to Frederick, they would fail. They reached out to local organizations in 2019 to raise funds.
“This is really a community story,” Moran said, noting that the club did not seek city, county or state funding, but relied on private and individual donors.
The statue is a gift to the city of Friedrich.
“Hats off to the Frederick Congregation,” said Bagel. “Everyone was so supportive and encouraging.”
At the public ceremony on October 17th, Jessica Fitzgerald, a Hood College graduate who receives the Frederick Art Club’s annual scholarship award, will unveil the sculpture along with one of her fourth grade art students, Ashley Olivia.
“There are generations of creative women in Frederick,” said Hempel Irani. “It starts with Claire, then there are the women from the Frederick Art Club who drive it, a Generation X sculptor, Jessica from Hood College, and then her art student. We have this whole bunch of women who go back 100 years and do this really cool thing in Frederick. “