The North Carolina Arboretum unveils Frederick Law Olmsted statue

FACE OF A VISIONARY: Sculptor Zenos Frudakis says the eyes of his new 8-foot-tall statue of landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted are squinting into the sun to convey the man's role as a visionary. The statue will be revealed during a ceremony at The North Carolina Arboretum at 5 p.m. Friday, April 22. Photo courtesy of The North Carolina Arboretum

“I take chaos and give it order,” says sculptor Zenos Frudakis in describing his approach toward clay. Over the last two years, Frudakis has been working on a larger-than-life-sized sculpture of Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture. On Friday, April 22, at 5 p.m., the sculpture will be unveiled at The North Carolina Arboretum.

A surveyor, engineer, chemist, journalist, economist and farmer, Olmsted wore many hats. His career as a landscape architect began in 1858 when he and Calvert Vaux, an accomplished English architect, won the design competition for New York City’s Central Park. Some other notable projects that Olmsted was involved in include the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Elm Park in Worcester, Mass., and his work on the Biltmore Estate (his final project before his death in 1903).

The Olmsted sculpture will be placed in the Arboretum’s Blue Ridge Court. The bronze piece stands 8 feet tall. “When [the Arboretum] first hired me, they only wanted seven feet,” Frudakis says. “I took it upon myself to do eight.” Frudakis’ reasoning for that extra foot was simple. “Olmsted was so monumental, such a Renaissance man, that I thought it required more.”

Frudakis’ intention in the statue’s design was to capture more than just the physical features of Olmsted. “He was a designer, a thinker. He had a kind of philosophy on landscape,” Frudakis says. “But how do you get at his genius, the sense of order that he superimposed on the landscape? That’s the tricky part.”

The process involved plenty of research on Frudakis’ part. Books were read as well as listened to on tape while he worked on the sculpture. Photographs were studied. Frudakis also spoke with clothing expert Craig Nannos who provided him an authentic outfit from the period and consulted with Witold Rybcznski, author of A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century.

“[Olmsted] was an outdoor landscape architect,” Frudakis offers as an explanation of the statue’s final design. “That’s why his clothes have the wind moving through them, blowing through his beard and hair.” And Olmsted’s collar is turned up, which Frudakis explains gives him a “regal quality.” There are also the eyes, squinting toward the sun, because Olmsted was “a visionary.”

Having spent as much time as he has in creating Olmsted in the bronze form, Frudakis can’t help but see similarities between himself and the man. “Basically, I take dirt just like he did and redesign it and give it shape … [just like] he reshaped earth to make it into a park or a beautiful landscape like at the Biltmore.”

Frudakis will meet with guests and offer a short talk about the project at Friday’s unveiling. The Arboretum will provide free parking for guests starting at 4 p.m. the day of the event.

On Saturday, April 23, the Arboretum will host a family-friendly day of events in honor of the statue’s installation and will celebrate Olmsted’s 194th birthday on Tuesday, April 26. For details, call 665-2492 or visit www.ncarboretum.org. For more information on Frudakis’ work, visit his website at http://www.zenosfrudakis.com.

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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