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Sculptor commissioned for Rev. Billy Graham statue shares process


By Kimberly King

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    CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (WLOS) — Sculptor Chas Fagan has made his home in Charlotte for decades, and it was Fagan who was hired as the artist to create the seven-foot bronze statue of North Carolina’s revered pastor, the late Reverend Billy Graham.

“I first saw Billy Graham on TV when I was a kid in Belgium,” said Fagan, talking in his art studio on the second floor of his home. “I remember one of my Belgium buddy’s parents putting me on the spot and quizzing me, ‘who is this guy on TV?’”

Fagan, 57, has a passion and deep knowledge of U.S. history. His ability to land commissions to paint or sculpt American leaders and legends includes the late President Ronald Reagan to historic figures from the Civil War. All are reflected in the corners of his studio with miniature reproductions he and other artists submit when competing for commission work. Fagan, in that regard, was perhaps the quintessential choice to create the statue of the man called ‘America’s pastor.’

“They gave me full access to all the archives and videos,” said Fagan, who had an advantage of living in Charlotte where the Billy Graham Library, run by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, is based. “I’d watch him move and how he’d interact with the crowds. His progression into that figure was wonderful.” Fagan was referring to the iconic figure Graham became, serving as counselor and spiritual advisor to 12 sitting presidents and preaching to 200,000,000 people during his career.

“The basis for a great statue is a pose,” said Fagan. He chose one where Graham was holding his Bible and gesturing to verses with the other. Fagan began work on the original miniature version of Graham and said his essence came forward early, even before he had created eyes in his clay while he worked on Graham’s face and head.

“There was a particular day happening right in this spot kind of behind me,” said Fagan. “Against the wall I’ve got cardboard and tons of images all taped up. It was just the beginning but with just a couple of touches, dents to make the shape of the face, it suddenly looked like him.” Fagan may have been born in Belgium but he’s American. The Yale graduate speaks multiple languages, and has made Charlotte his home with his family for decades. As for the Graham statue, once the maquette miniature was approved he continued to work.

“I take the measurements off the smaller one to make the bigger one and re-sculpt it entirely.”

It’s just the first step. The seven-foot sculpture of Graham was then covered in plastic to make a mold which is then opened and the sculpture removed. There are several steps to follow and then a new mold is made.

“It’s fired so hot that the sand becomes ceramic, and that’s what you pour the molten bronze into.”

Since the statue is done in pieces sometimes they don’t all perfectly fit. When asked if that particular part is stressful Fagan had a quick reply.

“Oh yea, of course.” But with the Graham statue he said the foundry work went smoothly. Fagan like any artist must focus on the details of his subject. From Graham’s thick wavy hair to the way boxy traditional suits of his era hung on his lanky 6’3” frame, all had to be taken into account as he created a statue in Graham’s likeness. In his face he created a strong and yet soft gaze evoking Graham’s well-known humble spirit. The artist hopes these will permanently reflect the preacher forever in bronze.

“I’ve seen him now in statuary hall because we put him in there last week, and it was amazing.”

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