DDelaware County Daily Times, May 9, 2020
There are three sides to every Jennifer Frudakis-Petry sculpture, not unlike the three sides to every story.
Sculpture has the advantage of delivering a head-turning truth that is felt for generations, which is the case with Fredia Gibbs.
Two years after Frudakis-Petry crushed it with a seven-foot sculpture of the late Emlen Tunnell, the Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back and World War II hero from Radnor High School, she’s nearing completion of a stunning six-foot likeness of Chester High sports star Gibbs.
If you were unaware of Gibbs’ dominance in basketball and kickboxing, you’ll see it in bronze, possibly before winter. Frudakis-Petry is that thorough.
“You really want to make it special, so someone stops and takes a look and is inspired when they see it,” Frudakis-Petry said Friday during a break in the clay-modeling portion of the process. “At least you hope you can get that kind of response and want people to know more about who she was.
The estimated time of completion for the Gibbs sculpture is this fall. providing the coronavirus pandemic eases and the Laran Bronze foundry in Chester gets the green light to fire up the furnaces.
Work began on the Gibbs sculpture a year ago with a 24-inch clay scale model focusing on design, composition, pose and details. From there it went to the foundry where it was enlarged with a 3D scan.
After a Styrofoam copy of the original was made, Frudakis-Petry shaped the next-to-final version with clay over the foam surface.
“You’re starting over, basically,” Frudakis said. “Six months later you have a finished enlarged sculpture. Once that clay-enlarged sculpture is complete it goes back to the foundry, they do a mold and then they cast it in bronze. The bronze is permanent.”
Laran Bronze is the go-to finisher for Frudakis-Petry, an artist for more than 40 years who helped her uncle Zenos Frudakis complete 10-foot figures of Steve Carlton, Whitey Ashburn, Robin Roberts and Mike Schmidt for the opening of Citizens Bank Park in 2004.
Frudakis-Petry has done an array of sculptures in virtually every sport. She worked on trophy-sized figures of Dave Poulin, Ron Hextall, John LeClair, Eric Lindros, Dave Schultz and Eric DesJardins for the Flyers Hall of Fame, and figures for the Negro Baseball League, including the late Pop Lloyd.
These days Frudakis-Petry is a bit more selective of her subjects partly because the projects are marathons. The sculpture of Gibbs strikes dear to her heart, for both know how difficult it can be to compete in what have been male-dominated professions.
While Gibbs was the all-time leading basketball scorer at Cabrini University, it was her transition to kickboxing that fascinated Frudakis-Petry. Instead of Freida Gibbs, she was Cheetah Gibbs, The Most Dangerous Woman in the World, having knocked out 15 of her first 16 opponents in kick boxing.
The Gibbs sculpture is modeled after a kickboxing snapshot.
“I like to do a lot of research,” Frudakis-Petry said. “Two photos really stood out. One is where she throws her fists up in the air like she’s Rocky in Philadelphia. The other is where she’s ready to kick, she’s got one leg up and her arms are in place to punch. That had a lot of action and was just a very exciting pose with a lot of movement.”
Frudakis-Petry got together with Gibbs, who loved the boxing pose. It turned into another fact-finding mission for the longtime artist who has taught at the Wayne Art Center and resides in Doylestown.
“I love observing people,” Frudakis-Petry said. “I’m a big people watcher. And you get inspired when you research. Emlen was a good example because his story, his life was so amazing. The things he accomplished and the kind of life he led was inspiring. That’s what makes you want to get up and do the work and make it the best you can possibly make it. The same with Fredia. She overcame a lot of obstacles. Beyond what a person’s appearance is their life story equally plays a part. It’s why I would want to invest all this time and energy into a project like this.”
The Tunnell sculpture outside the Radnor Township building is as lifelike as it gets. Even the leather helmet has detail. It frames the wrinkles around the eyes. To look at it is to want to say, how are you doing?
The detail in the Gibbs sculpture appears every bit as impressive. It almost looks like Frudakis-Petry did the original braids for Gibbs.
“I just finished the hair,” Frudakis-Petry said. “I can’t tell you how many different braids are in her hair. Each braid is individually sculpted. With sculpture there are no illusions, there’s no way to hide anything. It’s very honest that way, very authentic. You can’t just like say ‘oh, I don’t feel like doing hands, so I’ll just hide them in the pocket or something.' It wouldn’t be very interesting.”
In addition to pandemic limitations, what Frudakis-Petry is working through these days is finding the right expression of intensity to complete the face of Gibbs. It’s difficult because the expression is all encompassing.
“Sculpture you see at 360 degrees,” Frudakis-Petry said. “There’s space all around and you have to make it interesting from every angle. Sculpture is dimensional. If it’s done well it has a lot action and interest even if it’s a more abstract design.”
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, you can triple that for a Frudakis-Petry sculpture. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
Delaware County Daily Times, April 6, 2020