In 1996, Alan Schechter ’57 tracked down the sculptor Penelope Jencks, who had recently completed a critically acclaimed statue of Eleanor Roosevelt for Riverside Park in New York City. Schechter told Jencks that the Class of ’57 hoped to commission a statue of Robert Frost as a 50th Reunion gift to the college. “I was totally burned out,” Jencks recalls. “I didn’t want to get back into commissions. It’s such a life-consuming thing to do.”
Jencks, who lives in the Boston area, mulled over the idea for several years. Finally she said yes. She decided to do the sculpture in granite, even though much of her work is in bronze. “Bronze is more fluid,” she says. “Not so New Englandy. I guess I felt that Robert Frost, although he wasn’t actually from New England, wanted to be from New England. I thought he would like to be in granite.”
Jencks created a maquette—a small scale model for a finished sculpture—of Frost sitting on rocks, holding a book. Eventually, she built a larger clay model and had it cast in plaster. Then, under Jencks’s close guidance, artisans in Pietrasanta, Italy, did the actual carving, using a single piece of black granite from Zimbabwe.
The finished piece weighs eight tons, the base another nine. After a long boat ride across the Atlantic, the statue arrived in New York City in mid-April. From there, a truck chauffeured it to Amherst. On the morning of April 24, workers set the statue under pine trees on the Main Quadrangle, near the War Memorial and facing Frost Library.
Schechter drove from Wellesley, Mass., to see the installation. He says the sculpture symbolizes the importance of teaching at Amherst. Frost was on the Amherst faculty for more than 40 years, beginning in 1917 and continuing on and off until his death in 1963. Ken Kermes ’57, who traveled to the installation from Wakefield, R.I., remembers that Frost would hold fireside chats in fraternity houses. “It was really like the corny old story,” Kermes recalls, “of students sitting at his feet.”
The class dedicated the sculpture during Reunion Weekend. When Jencks started the project, she thought she would portray Frost in his 60s—some two decades younger than Schechter and Kermes remember him. She thinks that in stone, though, Frost looks even younger—more like 40. As a rule, Jencks avoids sculpting the youthful, explaining that before 40, “there’s not a lot of character etched on your face.”
Online extra: See a slideshow of the Frost sculpture installation and dedication.