Delaware Public Media

'Fearless Girl' sculptor Kristen Visbal won't back down

Apr 28, 2017

For Fearless Girl sculptor Kristen Visbal, who works from her studio in Lewes, Delaware, the last two months have been an overwhelming frenzy of love and criticism.


The sculpture has become a powerful symbol for women’s rights since it was unveiled in New York’s financial district on International Women’s Day in early March.

 

But it has also recently come under scrutiny by the creator of Charging Bull, Arturo Di Modica. He said the bronze depiction of a young girl standing with her fists on her hips, bravely staring down his charging bull changes the meaning of his work.  

 

Charging Bull has become a symbol for a booming economy. Now, Di Modica said it represents the misogyny and discrimination women face.   

 

But Visbal disagrees, saying it's an issue of free speech.  

 

"When he placed the piece on the street under a Christmas tree in 1989 that work became a public work. By my placing Fearless Girl in the same arena my work is also public. Now it's up to the interpretation of the viewer," she said.

 

Visbal adds Fearless Girl is making an important statement about women's rights, and she'd think Di Modica would be happy to collaborate and spread this message.

 

But that doesn't seem to be the case since he's threatening to sue State Street Global Advisors, who own and commissioned the piece, for copyright violation.

 

Fearless Girl isn't just staring down a copyright lawsuit.

 

She's also facing scrutiny from many women whose message she was hoping to spread.

 

Some women have criticized Visbal and State Street for using a young girl to send a message of standing up to gender inequality. They'd prefer the sculpture be a full grown woman who has actually stood up to workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.

Visbal said there was careful reasoning behind the choice to make Fearless Girl a young girl and not a woman.

Inside Visbal's Lewes studio.
Credit James Morrison / Delaware Public Media

"We are setting an example for the women of the future that they can be leaders in Fortune 500 companies," she said.

"Aesthetically, we wanted to create contrast between this larger-than-life, charging bull and this petite, delicate young woman to illustrate the magnitude of what woman are up against in the workplace," Visbal added. "And we wanted to tap into that enchantment you only get with a child."

Visbal used two girls as models for the sculpture. One was a friend's daughter and another was a young Latina girl in Lewes who helped provide an "ethnic" look to the sculpture.

But a lot of the finished look of Fearless Girl came from Visbal as she rushed to finish the piece before the deadline of International Women's Day.

"A lot of the work that I did happened at the wax stage. The spin on the ponytail. The eyebrows. It was really rushed at the end," she said.

The beginning of a sculpture. Clay is added to the top of the light foam.
Credit James Morrison / Delaware Public Media

Visbal creates bronze sculptures using a process called 'Lost Wax.'  The majority of her work is done sculpting a clay-wax mixture on top of a light Styrofoam human form.

“I glue the pipe insulation foam together to keep the work light. Then carve it until I get a form to put 1” of clay on,” Visbal said.

It’s in this clay-wax process that Visbal’s figures take form. The sculpture is then cast in a ceramic shell and the clay-wax mixture inside is melted out through holes and replaced with molten bronze.

Once that metal sets, the ceramic shell is broken to reveal the finished piece beneath … a process that takes about 500 hours for a lifesize piece.

“That’s for the casting process. For me to model it, I spend about 300 to 350 hours,” she said. 

Visbal outside her studio in Nassau Valley Vineyard in Lewes.
Credit James Morrison / Delaware Public Media

Visbal has been doing this for nearly 20 years and is no stranger to success. She has sculptures all over the United States, including a 12' 6" sculpture of Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton, Ohio.

She's currently preparing to sculpt the former treasury secretary again for the Coast Guard, in honor of his founding it.

As for the future of Fearless Girl, the temporary installation is currently scheduled to remain at Bowling Green Park in New York until late February, 2018 -just shy of the next International Women's Day on March 8.

 

But it has gained more than 50,000 signatures on a petition to make it a permanent installation. And it has won over New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio, who granted Fearless Girl her extension into next year.

 

If it doesn’t become a permanent installation, Visbal expects Fearless Girl to travel the world staring down institutions, statehouses and businesses with a track record of gender discrimination.

 

Many people in New York may hate to see her go. But people in the rest of the world may welcome her brave gaze with open arms. Or, possibly, with fists pressed to their hips.  

 

Credit Change.org