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Nelson Mandela Sculpture by League Artist Heads to Embassy

Nelson Mandela, cast resin by Paula Stern.

You might remember the above sculpture from a year ago, when it was featured in the 2012 Large Works show. Art League member Paula Stern’s bust of Nelson Mandela, in cast resin, is now headed to the Embassy of South Africa in DC.

At an event at the South African embassy, Stern showed some snapshots of the piece to Johnny Moloto, then first secretary at the embassy, which started the ball rolling for Stern to make her gift, which will be one of the first in the renovated embassy. The presentation ceremony was originally scheduled for next week, but has been postponed after Mandela’s passing yesterday. However, the sculpture will soon have a new home on Massachusetts Avenue.

Stern’s sculpture originated as a commission for Pinewood School in South Carolina, which has a garden dedicated to world leaders like Winston Churchill, Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama. A bronze cast of the bust was unveiled there in 2011.

The bust was sculpted in terra cotta. Stern recalled starting it during a portrait sculpture workshop at the Madison Annex with Charles Flickinger, working on Mandela instead of the classroom model.

Mandela’s likeness was based on a number of photographs of the leader, based on what Stern thought viewers would find the most recognizable image. Within the first couple of hours, “I just caught him,” Stern said. Knowing when to stop was, as always, an important decision.

Stern’s family, hailing from Memphis, has long been involved with the American civil rights movement, profiled in this Washington Post article. With the Mandela bust, Stern said, she was trying to capture a man who personifies racial tolerance, and to capture his “magnanimity, charisma, and beauty.”

The end result was an unusual bust, Stern said, with an “exuberant smile” and crinkling eyes.

“I think I captured the angel in him,” she said.

The piece, by the way, was rejected the first time it was entered in an Art League show. But while Stern was wheeling it out, she passed a family who recognized it.

“They said, ‘Wow, that’s Madiba!’ They were excited,” Stern said. “So I didn’t feel bad about it getting rejected.”

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