Kristen Visbal is a Delaware sculptor whose latest work, a bronze statue of the late Bob Hayes, Olympic sprinter, NFL star and Jacksonville native, will be unveiled at A. Philip Randolph Heritage Park in East Jacksonville Saturday. The sculpture, called Passing the Torch, is one of many beautification projects under the umbrella of the Better Jacksonville Plan.
HOW DID THE PROJECT
Hayes was a childhood friend of City Council member Pat Lockett-Felder.
“Pat spearheaded the project. She reviewed my work and approved it. The reason I got the commission is because my work is highly detailed.”
WHY UNDERTAKE THE PROJECT?
“I got to meet Bob. What a fantastic athlete he was. Every photo I saw showed him running on his toes, as if the bottom of his feet never actually hit the ground! So, I sculpted him on his toes just the way he looked in the 1964 Olympics.”
HOW DID YOU GET
“From my personal study of anatomy and basic dimensions from Bob. I had very few pictures to work from. He was ill. His body had atrophied and his legs were swollen but I was able to get the proportions. I used a model for 10-15 hours.”
WHAT INPUT DID HAYES GIVE YOU?
“I really wanted to have his shirt tail blowing in the wind to show speed but he was adamant about how he was always neat. He always had his shirt tucked in. He was also very specific about his running form.”
The 6-foot-9-inch statue displays the official 1964 Japanese Olympic torch.
“It has a patina finish and the torch flame is a deep gold. The work has rich, elegant tones of red, gold and chocolate brown.”
CARVING OUT A CAREER
“This is a very tough career. Unless you give 100 percent, you’re not going to make it. With Bob, it took 230 hours of modeling time plus casting and probably eight trips to the foundry. It’s a lot of hours. It’s cognitively and physically draining. I can’t even have a dog because I travel too much for research. The more information you have, the better the work is. I never want to rely on photographs because they can be misleading.”
WHAT’S REWARDING ABOUT YOUR WORK?
“I get such a thrill when I finish a piece and know it’s good. It sounds trite but it’s great to see the happiness it brings others.”
WHAT SUBJECTS DO YOU SCULPT?
“I do whatever I find interesting. I will start focusing on endangered marine life and I’m moving in the direction of sports and political figures. Soon, I hope to focus on abstract and abstract/realistic blends.”
HAVE YOU WORKED IN ANOTHER FIELD?
“I used to work for Omni regional sales in Washington, D.C. The hotel business is 24/7. It has to be in your blood. I felt like something was missing. Eventually, I found my way into fine art.”
HOW DID YOU GET INTO SCULPTING?
“It came to me; I didn’t go to it. I took a course in ceramics, then changed my major from graphic design. Once I made three-dimensional work, I never did two-dimensional again. It is the ultimate method of self-expression and the best way to document a form.”
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THIS?
“Professionally, I have been sculpting for four years. It usually takes 10-20 years to amass a substantial body of work. I was very fortunate to receive a commission after only being in a studio for six months. I have several patrons who buy regularly from me. I’m not a starving artist. I’ve been making money since I first went to a foundry.”
CLAIM TO FAME
Exhibitions have been held for Visbal’s work at the Lincoln Center, The Pen and Brush Club of New York City, the National Sculpture Society, the National Arts Club in New York City, the Symposium For the Preservation and Biology of Sea Turtles in Orlando, the Woodburn Governor’s Mansion in Dover, in addition to, the Easton Waterfowl Festival and the Ward Wildfowl Museum, both in Maryland. Merrill Lynch is a notable corporate collector of her work.
Sea Express, the tentative title for her next piece, will depict a boy riding a wave on the back of a dolphin. The statue, to be installed in March at Jacksonville Beach’s new Oceanfront Park, will be have a coppery gold finish sprinkled with flecks of green.
Visbal is a graduate from Salisbury State University. She apprenticed for three years at Johnson Atelier Art Foundry in New Jersey to study the technicalities of Lost Wax Casting. “I haven’t really had any formal training. This is completely hand-eye coordination.”
The daughter of a foreign service diplomat, Visbal was born in Montevideo, Uruguay and lived in Central America. She grew up near Washington, D.C. and claims Potomac, Md. as her hometown.
HER FAVORITE THINGS
Visbal enjoys espionage films and novels. She also likes seafood, especially sushi.
— by Monica Chamness