Louisville sculptor Ed Hamilton’s finished works are mostly larger-than-life monuments installed at grand public spaces – the 12-foot-tall sculpture of boxing legend Joe Lewis in Detroit’s Cobo Center, Louisville’s Waterfront Park’s Abraham Lincoln memorial and the statue of York, a slave who played an integral role in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, overlooking the Ohio River on the Belvedere.
You can tell a lot about an artist by his workspace. You might expect Hamilton to craft his large-scale, nationally-renowned monuments in a spacious warehouse, but he’s called the same cozy, historic Phoenix Hill storefront home since 1978.
“I did some research on this building and found out it was owned by a gentleman by the name of Henry Kleier, who, back in the 1800s, was listed in the city directory as a tinner,” says Hamilton, gesturing around his studio, which is overflowing with figures. “He made cook stoves, roofing tin, just like this one – this is actually an example of the roofing tin found in the building –”
Hamilton points to one of many sculptures – an older, abstract piece from his “Confinement” period that predates his big monuments – squeezed in among a couple of giant Abraham Lincoln heads, various small-scale models, history books, even a clay figure he sculpted in high school that shows his early interest in the figures of Auguste Rodin.
In this room, Hamilton maintains a direct line to history. With its high ceiling and hardwood floor, it smells kind of like an antique bookstore – warm and a little earthy from the massive clay model illuminated under Hamilton’s homemade skylight.
It’s a new memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. that will be dedicated in Newport News, Virginia, in January, featuring King marching with several younger African Americans in period late-1960s fashions. “The Unfinished March,” Hamilton’s calling it, in memory of the demonstrations cut short by King’s assassination in 1968.
“It’s cracking up now, but I haven’t had the heart to—I’m going to tear it down because I need to get it out of the way and I need to think about something else in this space, however, I just wanted to live with it a little bit longer,” he says.
In this room, Hamilton starts each work with paper sketches, then moves to small architectural models before he begins crafting a working model of the actual sculpture. The results are all around him, in all stages of development for his large bronze memorial statues.
“This is a bronze model of ‘Spirit of Freedom’ that’s in Washington, D.C. That’s the sitting Lincoln that was digitally enlarged to 12-feet that’s down on Waterfront Park, and then you have the heads cast from the molds for ‘Spirit of Freedom’, and various other sundry things you see laying around, studies of hands for various projects,” says Hamilton, walking around his space.
Hamilton will open his studio to the public Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 9-10) as part of the Open Studios Weekend. The event is produced by the Louisville Visual Art Association and the University of Louisville’s Hite Art Institute. More than 60 local artists will give tours of their workspaces. Here’s a list of all participating artists and more information on the event.
On Saturday, studios are open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; on Sunday, noon to 5. Many artists will conduct in-studio demonstrations of their techniques, including glassblowing and pottery throwing.
Some work in and around central hubs, like The Mammoth artist studios in Portland and in the Nulu neighborhood, home to Hound Dog Press and painter Joyce Garner. Others are scattered across Jefferson, Oldham and Shelby Counties and Southern Indiana.
Open Studios Weekend kicks off with a reception Friday evening at the University of Louisville’s Cressman Center on East Main Street, where wristbands that serve as weekend-long tickets can be purchased. All of the artists and their work will be at the reception for a meet and greet. Proceeds from wristband sales benefit art scholarships at U of L’s Hite Art Institute and LVAA’s children’s fine art class programs.