Copper in the Arts

August 2021

Richard Hunt: Returning to His Roots

By Lisa Scheid

Richard_Hunt.jpegRichard Hunt in his studio with the sculpture Scholar’s
Rock or Stone of Hope or Love of Bronze (
Photograph courtesy of Richard Hunt.

Chicago-based artist Richard Hunt, an abstract innovator, is considered one of the most important African American bronze sculptors of the 20th century. 

This year, Hunt, 85, has returned home to his south side roots with a heartfelt homage to the medium that inspires him in an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

A Scholar’s Rock or Stone of Love or Love of Bronze exhibition features a massive bronze of the same title, two large-scale stainless steel sculptures and several smaller bronzes, all completed in the last two decades.

The Institute describes Hunt’s practice over the last six years as engaging “a durational approach of continually adding, removing, and reshaping the work, investigating the meaning of bronze both in relation to its mythological and material attributes, as well as its inherent transformative possibilities.”

Hunt draws inspiration from the medium, reusing scraps and found metal. He responds to the needs of the material in what he refers to as “an ongoing process of things getting built and grown.”

Intuitive but not random, Hunt works with Corten steel, bronze, copper, brass – and all kinds of scrap.  The results are a form of improvisation, an unfolding dialogue, he says, “between me, the technique, and the material.”

“It’s dynamic and it’s three-dimensional,” Hunt told WTTW on the occasion of the unveiling of his latest work, a monument to pioneering journalist Ida B. Wells. “That is to say, you know, you can have a painting or a mural or something on a wall, and that’s something that you look at that doesn’t change, but if you have a sculpture somewhere, you look at it from here, you look at it from there, you look at it from another side. It reveals itself in different ways.”

In a published conversation with Institute curator Jordan Carter, Hunt talked about the bronze sculpture that lends the title to the exhibition.

It may be the longest title of piece he’s ever had and reflects what was going through his mind at the time, he said. He had been getting sheets of bronze from Revere Copper & Brass for many years.

“But at that point in time, six years ago, I got word that Revere was not going to roll any more sheets of bronze,” he shared with Carter. “ So I got this material that, unlike the sheet, is material that would get caught up in the rolling process—what they call drops, or scraps. So the Love of Bronze is something that came to mind because on one of those crumpled pieces of metal that I got, the person at Revere had written, ‘Love you, 655.’ Now 655 is a number for the different alloys of bronze. Because you can say ‘bronze,’ but there’s bronze that has more tin or zinc, some more copper, et cetera.” 

Hunt also drew on his recent visit to China where he had seen gardens with scholar’s rocks. 

“Stone of Hope” refers to the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington. 

Hunt’s return home exhibition pays homage to his hometown and that Art Institute of Chicago where he got his start. 

He began drawing as a child and enrolled in a summer program at the Institute’s Junior School. It’s also the place where he received his initial training in sculpture under Nelli Bar. By 1950 Hunt had set up a studio in his bedroom, and began to model in clay. 

He graduated from the School of the Art Institute in 1957, and in 1958 his work Hero Construction was acquired by the museum. 

Hunt’s more than 150 public sculptures can be found all over the world. Working out of a repurposed Chicago Railway Systems electrical substation built in 1909, he has space to be able to continuously create both towering sculptures and more intimate constructions. 

Richard Hunt’s work is on display in the modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago until Sept. 20. Hunt’s sculptures from the 1970s and his maquettes for public sculptures accompany the terrace installation beginning Sept. 26 in Gallery 288 of the Modern Wing.


Richard Hunt Studio, South Side, Chicago, IL

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