Sculpture conveys horror of battle MARYLANDERS AT WAR

November 10, 1994|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Sun Staff Writer

TESUQUE, N.M. -- The faces are haggard, full of horror.

Lawrence M. Ludtke wants you to look at them first.

"When people look into these faces," Mr. Ludtke says, "I hope they see some of the things that took place that day."

That day was 131 years ago at Gettysburg, site of the pivotal battle of the Civil War. Mr. Ludtke, one of the foremost figurative sculptors in America, has created a monument to honor the Maryland soldiers who fought there.

The monument will be unveiled Sunday at Gettysburg. Last week Mr. Ludtke was in this New Mexico village just north of Santa Fe to supervise the craftsmen at a local foundry as they put the finishing touches to his sculpture. It was transported by truck to Gettysburg this week.

The statue depicts two wounded soldiers -- one Union, one Confederate -- helping each other off the battlefield. Maryland was the only state with regimental units on both sides at Gettysburg.

"They're both looking for help, looking for an escape from the horrors of the battlefield," Mr. Ludtke says. "The battle is over, TC and they have to return to their homes, return to their lives."

Mr. Ludtke is a tall, lean Texan -- 6 feet 5, 210 pounds. He raised the Maryland flag outside his Houston studio and played the soundtrack from the movie "Gettysburg" inside during the 3 1/2 months he sculpted the 8-foot clay figures.

He is 65, wears dungarees and leather jackets. While he is soft-spoken, he is also self-assured when discussing his art.

"I'm really a traditionalist," he says. "My sculpture includes the human figure and human emotion. People who put up blocks of concrete, and some of these abstract forms you see, that's not sculpture to me."

A traditionalist is what Jim Holechek wanted. Retired from owning an advertising firm in Baltimore, Mr. Holechek led the drive to erect the memorial.

At first Mr. Holechek wanted the monument at Culp's Hill where the Maryland men mainly fought. But Culp's Hill is a little-visited stop on the auto tour. And Gettysburg officials said no suitable site existed there. They offered a much more prominent site, next to the parking lot between the Cyclorama and visitor center. You can clearly see Culp's Hill from there.

Mr. Holechek offered $75,000 for a sculptor in national art and sculpture publications. He tapped Reuben Kramer, a renowned local sculptor, to head the selection committee.

Eighty-three sculptors responded by submitting five slides of their work. Ironically, Mr. Ludtke was not one of the three finalists. He was merely the first alternate.

His sculptures of presidents, generals and other famous people stand all over the country. Among them:

Lyndon Johnson and Sam Houston in the Texas-hero exhibit at Sea World in San Antonio; Gen. Robinson Risner, a longtime Vietnam POW, at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Gen. William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the intelligence service during World War II, in the lobby of CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

When one of the finalists fell ill, Mr. Holechek called Mr. Ludtke. Could he create an 18-inch clay model in one month -- even though the other two finalists had been given three months?

Mr. Ludtke replied that yes, he could. When he hung up, he said to his wife: "Now that I've got a chance, nobody's going to beat me on my model."

He explains: "It was the idea of having a piece of work at Gettysburg. To me it's perhaps the most important battlefield, in fact, the most important site in the United States. What happened there ensured that the country would hold together.

"So I put everything else on hold, because this is the most important piece I've ever done."

The instructions were clear: Two soldiers -- one Union, one Confederate -- both wounded, neither dominant over the other.

"When I knew that was the charge," Mr. Ludtke says, "I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I thought: 'How could anyone do anything other than this?' "

He finished the model in three weeks, rented a car and drove to Mr. Holechek's house in Towson. Mr. Ludtke set the model on the dining-room table.

Mr. Holechek was stunned.

"I almost wept when I looked at it," Mr. Holechek says. "It was so full of emotion. It captured exactly what I'd had in mind."

Mr. Ludtke turned out to be the unanimous choice.

Says Mr. Holechek: "All I can say now is, my gosh, what would have happened if there had not been a Larry Ludtke?"

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