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Behind the Bronze

By Samantha Kenney
On May 6, 2006

"I had a lover's quarrel with the world." - The epitaph of Robert Lee Frost

He's everywhere - Facebook, The Clock, and all those drunken photos taken around 3 a.m. in front of Rounds Hall. But where did the life size bronze statue of Robert Frost come from? Robert Frost was recognized by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as the first poet laureate in the United States and received the Pulitzer Prize four times in his accomplished lifetime. Among the list of achievements that Frost acquired, the most important to Plymouth State is his short work as a professor at the university between the years of 1911 and 1912. To commemorate this important piece of history, Plymouth purchased the $60,000 bronze statue from a gallery in New Mexico. "Horst Fryhoffer, who was a professor in the social science department, had been traveling and touring out in New Mexico," stated Angela Matthews, the university's Director for Advancement. Seated comfortably in a maroon upholstered easy chair, Matthews leaned forward intently, glad to discuss the history behind the campus's most noticeable addition. "He stopped at the Nedra Matucci gallery and was looking around. He went out to the garden and saw this (the Robert Frost) statue. He was stunned." From there, Professor Fryhoffer compiled the information about the statue and brought the information to President Wharton. Matthews continued. "President Wharton sent the whole packet over to me and I did some research." The statue was originally found in February of 2003, and at that time means were not available to purchase the $70,000 statue, even with the $10,000 discount given to the school. "We were in the middle of a campaign at the time and campus beautification was part of the campaign from the beginning," Matthews explained. "We had four parts of the campaign: equipping the new science center, supporting the cultural arts, doubling our endowment, and doing some beautification on the campus. The statue fit in the context of the campaign, but at the time, we had much bigger priorities." Boyd Science Center, built in 2003, needed to be equipped for "science study and research in individual disciplines," as explained on the school's website,, and the purchase of the statue was moved to a later date when funds became available. "When we started gearing up for the campus campaign, it was the perfect opportunity because the people on campus would certainly be interested in a statue of Robert Frost since we have this wonderful connection," Matthews said. She continued to explain that the entirety of the bronze was purchased through fundraising and individual donations dedicated to the cause. Besides teaching on campus, Robert Frost would return to the school about once a year to read his poetry and discuss it with those in the audience. Dr. Norton Bagley, a 1941 graduate of Plymouth Normal School and a full-time professor at the college until 1982, remembers one reading in particular. "Once he got very upset when someone asked what 'two roads diverged in a yellow wood meant' (The Road Not Taken)," Bagley started. "He asked, 'What does it say? It means exactly what the words say. Don't read anything into it." Frost was known for his preference of seclusion and privacy, which is probably the reason why only one statue of the poet laureate had been created before. The bust statue constructed from life was designed by Walker Hancock, a talented sculptor who worked mainly in allegorical figures and commemorative statues. The sculptor who created Plymouth's version of Robert Frost, George Lundeen, a Colorado artist who displays work in galleries throughout the Midwest, had the opportunity to work with Hancock while making the statue. "At the time he (Hancock) was 93 years old and I called him to have lunch," said Lundeen, with a comforting Midwestern accent. "Imagine that, flying from Colorado to have lunch. He agreed, so I flew to Boston and met with him." While Lundeen visited the area, he also stopped at the Frost family farm in Derry, New Hampshire that is open to the public as a museum for part of the year. "I was in that house and they have kind of a wooden easy chair there," Lundeen explained. "There was a picture next to it of him (Frost) sitting in that chair." The inspiration for Plymouth's statue and its 20 other copies scattered around the United States came from the "desk" that Frost had set up on the chair to write on. "He put a board across the arms of the chair and there was a hole with a stick through it to keep it up," Lundeen said. "What I did for the piece was use that board, propped up with that stick... I thought that it really worked well." A bronze statue made at life-size takes approximately a year to complete. Lundeen explained that for the first four to six months a clay piece, approximately the size of the final product is used to achieve a good overall appearance. "When you see a life size piece like that, you need a good silhouette that will greet people," Lundeen said. From there it takes a month to develop the mold for the sculpture and another two or three months to cast and finish the artwork. While Lundeen was working on his sculpture of Robert Frost in Colorado, he would send pictures to Hancock to receive feedback on the progress of his work. "I sent him pictures every few weeks," Lundeen stated. "When I finished, I sent the last set. He (Hancock) wrote me back and told me that Robert Frost, himself, wouldn't like it." After a year's worth of work, Lundeen was beside himself and called the elderly sculptor immediately. "I asked, 'What's goin' on? I thought you liked the progress all along,'" Lundeen started. "He said, 'Well I do, but there is enough room for someone to sit on the left side of the bench and on the right side. He (Frost) probably wouldn't have wanted anyone to sit next to him." Regardless of whether or not Robert Frost would have wanted anyone to sit next to him on his bench, Plymouth students have accepted the statue as a part of the campus community. Plymouth State instituted a new smoking policy in the Fall of 2005 that forbid anyone from smoking within twenty feet of any building on campus. The Frost statue appeared on the front page of The Clock with a cigarette casually hanging out of his mouth. The caption under the photo read: "Robert Frost, obeying the new PSU smoking policy, and lighting up twenty feet away from Rounds Hall. Since that first issue, the statue has been seen in the pages of the paper holding a basketball to celebrate the upcoming season, draped in Christmas lights for the holidays, and sporting sunglasses and a Hawaiian lei for Spring Break. "The first time I saw him in "The Clock" I was hysterical," Matthews said. "I picked up the paper and saw that you had the first persons, you know, the question of the day. The question was 'Your best pick-up line.' I'll never forget it. 'Hey, baby, will you polish my walking stick?' It was just so funny." "The way that the students bring the statue alive is wonderful," said Robin Hudnut, one of Robert's grandchildren, who was impressed and touched to hear about the campus interaction with the artwork commemorating her grandfather. Robin and her husband have been actively involved on campus and to help with the purchase of the statue, she and her husband donated a contribution in the name of the late Plymouth State librarian, Tod Devaro. "The time that Grandfather was at Plymouth was one of the more important times in his life - with the decisions to throw himself wholeheartedly into being a poet," Hudnut stated. Lundeen enjoyed the news that the students have taken such an interest in his artwork. "It's terrific that people like it and become a part of it," Lundeen said. "I think a lot of people have respect for the piece." "We weren't sure how things would go once he (the statue) got to campus," Matthews explained. "We have been - the President, the cabinet, myself, the volunteers who helped raise money - everyone has just been astounded at the way the students have reacted to having Robert Frost. It's been so sweet, the students have adopted him and brought him into their daily lives in a way that we would have never anticipated." Matthews explained that from her office window, she has an excellent view of the statue and has been able to see some of the student interaction with Frost. "I was watching one day early on, it might have been like three or four days into the semester," Matthews stated. "There were students coming up on the path around Rounds Hall - a bunch of guys - they saw him and they walked right over to him. They were walking around him, just right by the bench, leaning back and looking. Well, they all turned to walk away and one of them goes back and rubs his head. I sort of felt like that would give him good luck." Whether or not the statue is a source of luck or a medium for amusement, the students will find out soon enough - finals week is just around the corner.

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