Tucked away among the blooming tulips, azaleas and daffodils at Dallas Blooms at the Dallas Arboretum are some very familiar faces waiting for visitors to stop for a chat. They are Gary Lee Price’s “Great Contributors” bronze sculptures depicting some of history’s most inspiring figures, now on display until April 16.
Price created these lifelike sculptures of the most extraordinary people the world has ever known sitting on simple benches.
“They are just like us. They are only people who have good qualities – both good and bad – and therefore I will bring them down to earth, put them on the benches. We can sit with them and with a little imagination, have a conversation with them,” Price said.
This series is Price’s third appearance at the Dallas Arboretum. Spring’s “Major contributors” are more inclusive.
“So, when I was here before with other ‘major contributors,’ I had a lot of male figures. I had Washington and Lincoln. People were walking around saying, ‘Where are the contributors? Where are the women?'” Price said. “I want to recognize each and every one of their contributions to humanity.”
This year’s new sculptures in the series include Mother Theresa, Ruby Bridges, Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc and Amelia Earhart.
Price’s response to his tumultuous childhood and an individual’s contribution to improving the world influences who he chooses to be part of his “Great Contributors” series.
“I’ve always believed in these model people who have overcome adversity,” Price said. “Any of these figures I choose, I want them to have contributed to world peace.”
The sculpture of William Shakespeare is a permanent resident at the Dallas Arboretum. Price chose Shakespeare as a “Great Contributor” because his works span the full spectrum of human experience. Shakespeare’s bench is more elaborate than the others, with a skull and crown that evokes themes in his plays.
“I just wanted to create a great scenario of life itself through what he was able to portray for us through all his plays,” Price said.
Price researches historical figures for months, even years, before beginning to sculpt. Books, films and photographs feed his imagination.
“Somehow I want to get their spirit. So when you sit next to them, you feel their energy and what they were about,” Price said. “I really want the person to come through the lifeless metal.”
Each sculpture exudes personality. Mother Theresa holds a rosary, and leans forward with her gaze upward, inviting a conversation or a prayer. Amelia Earhart appears to be looking skyward, waiting to see another plane fly over White Rock Lake. Benjamin Franklin has a mischievous twinkle in his eye, eager to debate government and liberty.
Harriet Tubman patiently waits with her lantern to share the path to freedom. Joan of Arc is a confident spiritual soldier who rests with her sword. Albert Einstein is lost in thought and Mark Twain communicates with children. Shakespeare is eager to talk about his plays. Ruby Bridges looks to the future with determination and hope.
Price intends for people to touch and interact with his sculptures. When “Great Contributors” first appeared at the Dallas Arboretum, a group of children immediately began climbing a sculpture of Monet. While teachers and parents tried to discourage the children, Price was elated and encouraged them to keep going.
“No, do it! Do it!” Price said. “The more senses we can involve with art, the more impact it has on them so they can touch them. That’s why my pieces have a lot of texture.”
Price is eager for Bridges to see her sculpture.
“It will be interesting to see her reaction because that was the beginning of her fame,” Price said.
The sculptor intends to add a modern icon who overcame great adversity in the early years to the “Great Contributors” series.
“I hope to be able to one day make a ‘Great Contributor’ of Oprah,” Price said.
Price hopes these “major contributors” help people understand how they can contribute in their own way.
“Hey, we have incredible potential just like they did. They tapped into it, used it. We can do the same thing,” Price said. “I want them to empower others.”
Learn more: Dallas Arboretum