Sculptor Glenna Goodacre’s Vietnam Memorial Is the First to Honor the Women Who Served : For the Forgotten
Prowling the winding, adobe-walled streets of town in her red luxury sports coupe, Glenna Goodacre is always on the lookout for potential models.
“Did you see her?” Goodacre exclaims, peering into the rearview mirror at the receding image of a woman walking down the sidewalk. “I think I know where she works.”
In a couple of months, Goodacre will gather the models she has recruited--three women and a man--in her spacious studio and embark on the most important sculpture of her career: the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
The completed bronze figurative sculpture will stand nearly 7 feet tall. It will take its place on the Mall in Washington, D.C., a few hundred feet from the long black slab of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and a sculpture of three GIs by artist Frederick Hart.
It is clear from the arrangement of the figures in the 2-foot-tall wax model in Goodacre’s studio that she wants the sculpture to be viewed in the round.
In the painted model, called a maquette, a nurse sits on sandbags cradling a wounded soldier in her lap. A second woman stands to one side, her hand on the nurse’s shoulder as she looks anxiously skyward, perhaps waiting for a medevac helicopter. Her back to the other two, a third woman kneels, holding a helmet in her right hand, her eyes cast down in an expression of despair.
“This has more emotion and passion and feeling than anything I’ve done,” Goodacre says in her flat West-Texas twang. “To get all that over in hard bronze is a challenge.”
For the 52-year-old Goodacre, the memorial is the high point of a career that has already brought both recognition and financial success.
Her larger-than-life bronzes have been commissioned as public art throughout the United States, while private collectors buy her work for as much as $165,000 in galleries in New York, Dallas, Santa Fe and Newport Beach.
Sunlight pours in through windows set high in the 18-foot walls of the studio Goodacre designed herself. The studio and adjacent guest house occupy prime real estate in the heart of Santa Fe’s Canyon Road district, where many artists live and work. A set of 12-foot-high French doors allows her to wheel sculptures in and out on large dollies. Mirrors line one wall so she can see her work and her models from various angles.
A staff of four assists Goodacre on her projects and runs an office equipped with computers, copiers and fax machines.
The sculptor is in perpetual motion, supervising the installation of a piece while keeping track of works in progress and planning for future projects. She logs considerable time on airplanes, traveling from one meeting to the next.
“I’m working harder now than I ever was when I was starting out,” she says.
Despite the travel and schmoozing, Goodacre is a working artist. Her firm handshake attests to the hours she puts in shaping wax and plaster models or molding clay to welded steel frames.
Goodacre, who favors loose, button-up shirts, jeans and flat-soled shoes when she is working, is comfortable leaning back in a chair and propping her feet up on a desk when it’s time for a chat.
She was born Glendell Maxey in Lubbock, Tex., the daughter of a prosperous builder and lumber wholesaler. Glenna and her sister were raised in ultraconservative surroundings, but her parents nurtured her interest in art from an early age, providing her with private lessons. She won a blue ribbon in a county fair art contest when she was 11.
She graduated from Colorado College with a BA in art in 1961 and married her college sweetheart, Bill Goodacre. Children Tim and Jill were born a few years later.
“I did just what was expected of me. I went to college, got my degree, got married and had children,” she says. Despite her family responsibilities, Goodacre never stopped painting and drawing. “I always had an easel set up in either the kitchen or the living room,” she says.
Six weeks of study at the Art Students League in New York City in 1967 instilled in Goodacre a deeper commitment to her art. Two years later, Lubbock gallery owner Forrest Fenn encouraged her to start sculpting, and by 1972, Goodacre was exhibiting her work at a gallery Fenn had opened in Santa Fe.
Goodacre established herself as a sculptor during the 1970s, winning sculpture and design competitions and joining a number of galleries around the country. The family moved to Boulder in 1974, and it was there, while still in high school, that Goodacre’s daughter Jill started modeling.
Photos and magazine covers of Jill, 28--a high-profile model known for appearing in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue--are scattered around Goodacre’s studio. (Son Tim, 29, is a real estate broker in Boulder.)
Jill is also engaged to singer-pianist Harry Connick Jr.
“I love Harry’s music and I love Harry,” Glenna Goodacre says. “Harry’s the nicest kid. All mothers would wish that their daughters would marry a Harry.”
Glenna Goodacre moved to Santa Fe in 1983 after the break-up of her 23-year-marriage to Bill Goodacre, a Boulder real estate broker.
Because she had visited New Mexico often as a child, “it was kind of like a homecoming,” she says. She became busier than ever and started on a long string of public art commissions.
Goodacre’s sculpture sometimes is dismissed by the mainstream art community because it is figurative, and because she often uses children as subjects. One of her favorite sculptures, for example, is “Puddle Jumpers,” a tableau of six larger-than-life children holding hands and laughing, some frozen in mid-leap.
Goodacre, who venerates the likes of Michelangelo, Rodin and Carpeaux, says she studied abstract art in college, but it didn’t do much for her.
“I just plod along and do what I like to do--which are realistic figures,” she says. “I love children and I love their exuberance and their innocence and the soft turn of their cheeks, I guess.”
Goodacre is not partial to art that disturbs people, a fact that she attributes to her conservative roots. “I guess I don’t like that kind of reaction,” she says. “I like art you can live with.”
Goodacre’s newest design has been embraced by backers of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project, the organization that is erecting the sculpture.
“It’s Vietnam. In that one piece, it’s the whole story of Vietnam,” says Diane Carlson Evans, who served as an Army nurse in Vietnam in 1968-69, and is the organization’s founder and chair.
But the project has had to clear a number of hurdles in its eight-year history.
It began with a bitter controversy over the stark, black granite wall Maya Lin designed for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Although the wall today is one of the most beloved monuments in Washington, many protested when it was unveiled in 1982 that it did not do justice to the people who served in Vietnam.
That dispute led to the addition of Hart’s bronze figurative sculpture of three infantrymen in 1984. But not everyone was satisfied.
“When I looked at that statue, it just left me feeling empty, like there was something missing--and it was the women,” Evans says. During the war, 265,000 women served in the military, about 11,000 in Vietnam. Ninety percent were Army nurses, with the rest working as flight controllers and for the Red Cross.
Evans got a sculptor to design a commemorative work and launched a grass-roots movement to win permission to erect a statue near the memorial, but the project was turned down by the federal Fine Arts Commission and its chairman, J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art.
Brown says the commission members, already troubled by the addition of Hart’s sculpture to Lin’s original, abstract work, was worried that statues commemorating various groups who served in Vietnam would proliferate around the memorial, ruining its design. It was also feared some might be offended by the original women’s sculpture, which depicted a lone white Army nurse, he says.
“There’s always going to be some interest group being slighted,” Brown says. Undeterred, the former nurses and their supporters took their case to Congress, which passed a bill specifically authorizing a Vietnam women’s memorial. The women also mounted an open design competition in fall 1990, drawing 317 entries.
But when the project’s board decided it could not blend the work of the two co-winners (one of whom had submitted an abstract design), they turned to Goodacre, who had received honorable mention.
Evans called Goodacre in May, 1991, to see if she could modify her design slightly and create a three-dimensional model for the board to study.
“We knew Glenna had captured what it was we wanted to say about women in Vietnam,” Evans says.
Goodacre’s sculpture also reflects greater ethnic sensitivity than the first proposal. The seated woman is white, the standing woman is black, and the kneeling woman’s ethnic background is deliberately left indeterminate. Goodacre also made a point of leaving identifying insignia off the women’s uniforms.
Brown says the commission was much happier with Goodacre’s design: “The nurses came back with a sculpture that we all took to. We thought it was quite lovely. We’re delighted that they got a good sculpture.”
The memorial project, which has already spent $2 million to win approval for the site and Goodacre’s design, must raise another $2 million before the statue is unveiled on Veteran’s Day, 1993.
Before then, engineers will have to sink pilings 54 feet into the soft soil of the old Potomac river bottom to provide a firm foundation for the statue, which will weigh about 2,400 pounds. Groundbreaking at the site is scheduled for this November.
Goodacre says she admires Evans and others who have fought so hard to get the memorial approved.
“These women are so tenacious and so hard-working,” she says. “They would not be put down.”