Statue of Alexander Hamilton by 'Fearless Girl' artist planned for Coast Guard Academy

A bronze statue of Coast Guard founder Alexander Hamilton is being planned for the Coast Guard Academy campus, and will be created by the artist who drew acclaim for her statue of a defiant girl standing in the way of the charging Wall Street bull.

The 9-foot-tall statue will depict Hamilton facing the flagpole prominently in front of Hamilton Hall, and the organizers plan to have the statue surrounded by a walkway and three plaques detailing his contributions to the Coast Guard.

It is intended as a gift from the Class of 1963, which recently celebrated its 50th reunion.

Mike Burdian, '63 class president, currently serving alongside two other '63 alumni overseeing the project, said the idea came to them after that reunion.

"This was before the craze that 'Hamilton' has right now," he said of the popular Broadway musical, whose catchy songs tell the story of Hamilton's efforts to help establish the United States during and following the Revolutionary War.

For more than 20 years, the Class of 1963 has provided service knives to officers at the academy as part of a graduating send-off called "Dining In." But class leadership wanted to do more, and they identified a statue as a permanent gift that would add something to the campus.

"There really aren't a lot of monuments at the academy," Burdian said.

In many of the state rooms on Coast Guard cutters, there is a plaque of Hamilton's 1792 letter of instruction to officers of what was then called the "Revenue Cutter" service, which eventually became the modern Coast Guard.

In that letter, Hamilton recommends that officers have "vigilance and firmness" but also "prudence, moderation and good temper" to fulfill their duties. That part of Hamilton's legacy has interested alumni, Burdian said.

"His original charge is very fitting and interesting and takes you back to that time," he added.

The 96 alumni of the class voted overwhelmingly on the statue of Hamilton and enlisted the artistry of Kristen Visbal.

Visbal already has crafted one Hamilton statue: a 15-foot sculpture with a flowing cape made from the American flag in Hamilton, Ohio, and said she potentially may have another in the works.

She said she feels a "strange connection to Alexander Hamilton" with all of the research she has done about him to date.

Her work captures many of her subjects in motion, and members of the committee praised the character she is able to depict in faces, particularly in a series of coach statues she produced for Miami University of Ohio.

"She has a very unique ability of capturing people's personality," said artist liaison David Andrews, who also serves on the committee.

Visbal traveled down to Colonial Williamsburg to take pictures of a model in historical clothing and eventually produced 72 different concept sketches for the statue before she and the committee came to a consensus on a design.

The face of Hamilton will be modeled after John Trumbull's painting of Hamilton, which is engraved on the $10 bill. Trumbull was a native of Lebanon, Conn., and a contemporary of Hamilton's.

She had planned to take on the Hamilton statue immediately after finishing the installation of "Fearless Girl" but the intense response to that statue has set her schedule back a few weeks. She works in a private studio on a vineyard in Delaware and has been answering phone calls and emails almost continuously since March.

"It's overwhelming," she said. "It's amazing so many people are interested."

Her first step will be to produce a small scaled-down model of the sculpture before it will be digitally enlarged in foam and then recreated in clay before being cast in bronze.

Burdian said all of the money for the statue, which will cost in excess of $200,000, has been raised by alumni from the Class of 1963, with the exception of an unidentified donor from outside the class. The class is working to raise the rest of the money and has been coordinating with the Coast Guard Alumni Association and the Academy to finish the project.

The unveiling of the statue tentatively has been set for October 2018, when the Class of 1963 returns to campus for its 55th reunion.

n.lynch@theday.com

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