Bob Dole earthwork takes shape at Dole Institute; it has special meaning to artist Stan Herd
photo by: Matt Resnick | Journal World
While watching Stan Herd craft an earthwork portrait of the late Bob Dole on the sloped east lawn of the Dole Institute of Politics on Sunday, Lew Hanna was awestruck by the sheer artistry on display.
“Just the way he makes his work come to life,” said Hanna, one of the spectators who had come to watch Herd work. From higher up on a shaded hillside, Hanna was able to see the work gradually come together: “To come out and see it, and watch it take shape, gives me a whole new appreciation of his incredible gift.”
Herd, a longtime Lawrence resident, has garnered international acclaim for his earthwork renderings, which use the ground as a canvas and are created with materials such as soil, coal, flowers, rock and mulch.
“It’s exciting to see him create this,” said Lawrence native Martha Garnica, who made the trip from New Jersey for the Fourth of July holiday. “This is a nice way to present our state by using nature.”
The portrait of Dole is roughly a quarter-acre in size and should be completed in time for the institute’s upcoming extravaganza to commemorate Dole’s 100th birthday and the institute’s own 20th anniversary. The free public celebration on July 22 will include an appearance from Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Robin.
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Despite being accustomed to projects up to 50 times the size of the Dole portrait, Herd said it has still presented a unique set of challenges. Because it’s meant to be viewed from the air, nearby sight lines can leave spectators with a slightly distorted view, Herd told the Journal-World, adding that the final product will be captured by drone images.
“We’ve had thousands of people this summer looking at it from 70 feet away,” he said. “If you look at any photograph from an angle, it skews the perspective, so this looks kind of funny from the hillside.”
Herd broke ground on the project in late April, and along with a few crew members has worked intermittently since that time — with each work session open for public viewing. With a full crew, Herd said that he could have completed the project in eight days — but finishing early would have left the portrait to the elements in the lead-up to the celebration. Since the portrait is a temporary work, the slow-walk strategy made more sense, Herd said.
“I was a little worried after (Saturday night’s) rain that some of the materials might wash off,” Herd said. “But it’s holding.”
Most of the materials come from within the state, including coal from a foundry just south of town. Herd said coal works well for the darker tones, and that he plans on utilizing limestone for parts of Dole’s face.
The chosen image, which portrays a smiling Dole on the presidential campaign trail in 1996, emerged from more than 10,000 photo submissions. Herd helped institute officials whittle the options to just a handful, but had concerns over Dole’s beaming smile — calling it “problematic” from a technical standpoint.
“Artistically, it’s a problem trying to make a realistic smile, blown up large,” he said. “But I think it’s working.”
Halfway through the project, Herd said he consulted officials about pivoting to a different image, but they wanted to stick with the original choice.
“I’m here to please the Dole Center — and I think it’s a good image,” he said.
The Dole Institute also embarked on a broad outreach campaign for the project, in which schools, libraries and community centers from across the state were given the opportunity to contribute artwork to be displayed as the portrait’s border. The Kansas-themed art, in the form of small paper squares, was placed into ceramic tiles, with four submissions per tile. The submissions feature drawings such as sunflowers, bison, box turtles and even the yellow-bellied salamander, which is the official state amphibian.
“We’ve collected over 900 works of art from kids across Kansas,” said Dole Institute Director Audrey Coleman. “Engaging the next generation of leaders is something that we do here, so finding a way to connect with kids across the state was a natural fit.”
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Herd said that the project was dear to his heart, and that he was a featured panelist for one of the earliest events held at the Dole Institute.
“So I got to be a part of the history of this platform, for people to discuss ideas about how to keep our country balanced in some way,” he said, crediting his friend Scott Richardson, who was Dole’s chauffeur during the ’96 presidential campaign, for his introduction to the institute.
Herd even recounted an encounter he had with Dole at The Oread Hotel, in which he mentioned Richardson.
“I said that my buddy Scott ‘used to drive you around when you were running for president,’ and he’s got stories to tell about you,” Herd said with a chuckle. “(Dole) said ‘I bet those are good.'”
On a more serious note, Herd said he would like to see a shift from the hyper-polarization of American politics to a more pragmatic approach like Dole’s. He said he thought the political climate had never been so rife with division before.
“Things are very up in the air right now and extremely divided,” he said. “This man, this institution, and the folks that are here (at the Dole Institute) to discuss this very issue are germane to democracy right now.”
By promoting bipartisan compromise, civil discourse, and public service, the institute carries on Dole’s legacy, Coleman said.
“Bob Dole loved serving the people of Kansas, and we’re excited to honor his birthday and his living legacy at the Dole Institute by celebrating with Kansans and folks from across the country,” she said.
The family-friendly event is intended to “make a big splash” while reminding people that the Dole Institute is a Kansas landmark.
“We invite folks to come and see this amazing piece and to have fun celebrating an amazing Kansan,” Coleman said. “We wanted to do something big and bold and beautiful to bring attention to the Dole Institute, while paying tribute to Sen. Bob Dole’s legacy.”
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Herd’s career making earthwork art has taken him to places around the globe. He said that his single most challenging project required 18 trips to China over 21 months. That earthwork, a portrait titled “Young Woman of China,” was four acres in diameter and required a crew of about 100 people.
His work has touched on a broad array of societal issues. One of his fondest memories, Herd said, pertained to his 2001 “Rosa Blanca” project in Havana “at a time when things were kind of dicey” between the U.S. and Cuba.
The trip garnered unwanted attention, Herd said, when it was inaccurately reported that Dole also made the trip to Cuba.
“That didn’t happen,” Herd said to laughter.
Herd did note, however, that former Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts was instrumental in making Herd’s return trip to Cuba a reality. In all, it took three separate trips to complete an image themed after José Martí — a famed Cuban poet and philosopher — with the artwork centered on Martí’s poem “I Have a White Rose.”
With Martí’s ties to the U.S., Herd said that the project had political overtones.
“We were trying to make some difference with the relationship between the United States and Cuba,” Herd said.
More big international projects could be on the horizon for Herd. He mentioned a potential project that would require a trip to NATO headquarters in Belgium for a piece related to Finland’s formal acceptance into NATO. And, while he didn’t divulge details, Herd said he was close to securing the funding necessary for a project in Brazil.
But for right now, he’s happy to work on the Dole portrait and create something that means so much to him.
“It means something just to have my name mentioned in the same paragraph with this man,” Herd said.