A Year of Claire McCardell

On October 17th, 2021, as many as 400 people gathered together to celebrate the unveiling of the Claire McCardell statue on Carroll Creek. It was the culmination of over two years of work. Having so many people come out on the blustery fall day meant so much to me and the women of the Frederick Art Club, who made this all happen. I have been reflecting on the project after a year of completing the project

The Story of the Claire McCardell Project

This projected was initiated by the Frederick Art Club to celebrate their 120th year. TFAC was founded in 1897 as an art league for Victorian women who were interested in painting and drawing. The mission expanded to include arts education, and providing scholarships for young women. It is one of the oldest art clubs in the United States.

Initially, the idea was to commemorate a woman in the arts from Frederick. Who better to celebrate than renowned fashion designer and cultural iconoclast than Frederick’s own, Claire McCardell. What began as a small plaque or bas-relief developed into a 7-and-a-half foot tall bronze monument set in a beautiful garden along Carroll Creek.

So few American monuments celebrate the achievements of women

This article in The Washington Post from April 2021 tackles the issue.

“In public monuments, women are more often depicted as mythological and fictional figures than as historical ones. There are 22 public monuments that include mermaids but only two of congresswomen.”

Gillian Brockell, Washington Post, October 6, 2021

What the Frederick Art Club was able to achieve through collaboration and mobilizing the community is really remarkable, not to mention an incredible experience for me.

Working on the clay sculpture.

This sculpture was initiated in 2018, fundraising and design work done in 2019, and the majority of the sculpture was done during a time of global pandemic. Thankfully, I mostly work alone in the studio and was able to continue working. The year was intense with everyone in my family working and going to school from home. But as I always say, sculptures are made by working a little bit consistently over time.

After creating several scale models, I went to work on a 1/2 scale sculpture. That was then enlarged at another sculpture studio using the Cartesian Box method of enlarging. Many studios employ 3D scanning and enlarging, we we at Hempel Studios go old school. The enormous enlargement showed up at my studio on a hot day in August os 2020. I’ll never forget how overwhelmed I felt looking at how much work I still had left to do. Seven months later, I was working on the finishing touches, astonished at how far I’d come.

Sarah in the studio with the 1/2 scale model to the left and the nearly-done enlargement to the right.

Once the clay was finished, we took the sculpture to Baltimore for mold-making. Then the pieces of the mold went to Colorado for bronze casting. Then in September, 2021, my family and I took an epic road trip to finish the bronze and bring Claire home.

It was 1680 miles from Loveland, Co to Frederick, MD.

Once we got her home, we still had to prepare the site and set the stone pedestal. There were so many steps, that when we finally unveiled the finished sculpture a huge sense of relief and accomplishment filled my soul. There’s no better feeling then setting out on an overwhelming task and seeing the fruits of your labor.

Claire McCardell on the Creek

Claire McCardell on Carroll Creek. Photography by Michael DeMattia

In the Press…

In 1938, Maryland’s Claire McCardell started changing women’s fashion

By John Kelly, Washington Post, September 17, 2022

…A few years ago, the Frederick Art Club, founded in 1897 by a group of female artists, art students and art lovers, was searching for a woman to honor. Club members wanted to “break the bronze ceiling,” helping correct the paucity of statues devoted to women. In a presentation, the local historical society made the case for McCardell.

Honoring an icon: Frederick Art Club unveils statue of fashion trailblazer Claire McCardell

By Angela Roberts, Frederick News Post, October 17, 2021

Even as a chilly autumn breeze buffeted the leaves of green trees Sunday afternoon, a steady stream of people gathered on the walkway outside of Idiom Brewery.

Since there were far too many to each claim a seat at one of the white folding chairs set up by the edge of Carroll Creek, many instead perched on brick walls or remained standing, craning their necks to see the small lectern positioned at the front of the crowd.

They were there to celebrate the culmination of more than two years of hard work by Frederick sculptor Sarah Hempel Irani and a women-driven team spearheaded by the Frederick Art Club. (Not to mention a three-day, 1,680-mile car ride from a foundry in Loveland, Colorado, to downtown Frederick’s Carroll Creek Linear Park.)

“Frederick is a place where history is made, and today we are doing it again by honoring a woman who changed the way women dress,” she [Hempel Irani] said.

Honoring an icon: Frederick Art Club unveils statue of fashion trailblazer Claire McCardell

New Claire McCardell monument helps to put the iconic fashion designer — and Frederick — on the map

By Lauren LaRocca llarocca@newspost.com Oct 14, 2021

Over the past two years, sculptor Sarah Hempel Irani and a team spearheaded by the Frederick Art Club has worked tirelessly to bring a bronze statue of renowned fashion designer Claire McCardell to Frederick. It will be unveiled to the public on Oct. 17 at its permanent location along Carroll Creek Linear Park.

But its installation is bigger than Sarah, bigger than Claire, and bigger than Frederick.

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A figurative sculptor for over 20 years, Sarah tells monumental stories in clay, bronze, and stone.

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