Question: What do the U.S. Air Force Academy, CIA Headquarters, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Pentagon, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, and the National Battlefield Park at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, among others, all have in common with The Bryan Museum?
Answer: Sculptures created by the late Lawrence Ludtke of Houston. The Museum is honored to add to our collection of fine art three bronze pieces, a statue, head to hip, of actor John Wayne; a bust of President Ronald Reagan; and one of the artist himself;, all donated to the Museum by his son, Erik Ludtke, of Houston.
Lawrence Ludtke, a Houston sculptor and fellow of the National Sculpture Society, was renowned for creating monumental portraits of American presidents and other important leaders. He accepted commissions to create pieces, now exhibited throughout the United States, that honor such distinguished figures as John F. Kennedy, Sam Houston, and Lyndon B. Johnson; military figures such as Major James Earl Rudder, president of Texas A & M University and a WWII hero; as well as religious icons, most notably a life-size Pietá for St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston and a Christ and Child for Travis Park Methodist Church in San Antonio. One of his most impressive works is the sculpture entitled “Brothers Again”, a monumental bronze sculpture on the Gettysburg Battlefield. In 1994 Ludtke was commissioned by the state of Maryland for this work, which is over 9’ tall and depicts two wounded soldiers helping each other off the field.
Lawrence Ludtke used his talent, skill, sensitivity, and respect for his subject to convey humanity, dignity, and stature. He was especially interested in honoring military and historical figures. A student of anatomy and musculature, he built his figure from the inside out – first the nude – then adding the clothes in layers.
An admirer of classical sculpture, Mr. Ludtke was greatly influenced by the work of Pompeo Coppini who had a studio in San Antonio in the early 1900s, and his protégé. He used a classic method of creating his art that is no longer in general use today, called “lost wax casting.” It enables the sculptor to enhance the detail of his subject. In this very labor-intensive, precise process, the first step is the creation of the clay model. Then a mold is created, broken off, and reassembled. Wax is used to create a hollow version of the original sculpture and is finally melted away in a kiln after a ceramic shell has covered it. Ultimately, the molten metal is poured into the shell and the shell is removed.
The life-scale portrait of John Wayne, from hat to hip, which is now standing tall in the Museum’s “Rest of the West” exhibit, was originally sculpted but never cast for the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1982. The sculpted portrait in clay remained in Ludtke’s studio for thirty-six years until 2017, when Ludtke’s son, Erik, had it cast.
The work captures Wayne dressed as though on the set of a Western, in a natural contrapposto pose, with his weight resting on his absent left leg and his right hand on his hip. Wayne is sculpted in Ludke’s characteristic representational, realistic style, alert in expression as though pausing in an animated conversation.