Sculpting Self, An Education In Mirroring


Last year, local eighth graders learned about the renowned work of Cape Ann sculptor Walker Hancock (1901-1998) while creating their own sculptures for an exhibit at the Cape Ann Museum that pairs the student and master works together.  

They will be on view at the museum’s Pleasant St. campus in Gloucester starting this weekend, running Saturday, April 16 to June 12.

The program was inspired by Hancock’s Basketball Series.  Over 15 years from 1961 to 1977, the sculptor made sculptures inspired by watching the Gloucester High School varsity basketball team practice.  The players would repeat moves like Sky Hook and Waiting for the Pass so Hancock could capture their dynamic, active movement in clay and later bronze.

“The basketball players were the result of having the opportunity to observe the game in its amateur form, which to me is more interesting than the professional, from the point of view of action. Because there are many more accidents than in professional plays,” Hancock said during an interview at the Cape Ann Museum in 1989.

During the 2021-2022 school year, Cape Ann Museum Education Manager Miranda Aisling visited three area schools with classes of eighth graders twice to talk about Hancock’s work and to teach the students how to create their own wire armature and then cover it in clay.  Each student was asked to portray themselves doing their favorite activity from reading to dancing to listening to music to playing video games.  The sculptures capture the interest of eighth graders from Manchester-Essex Middle School, Rockport Middle School, and Gloucester’s O’Maley Middle School.

Born in St. Louis Missouri, Hancock made his home in Lanesville and devoted his long and distinguished career to capturing the spirit of the human figure.  His subjects were diverse, ranging from prominent American political and military figures to important artists and his friends and neighbors.  One of his most famous is the Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial (circa 1949-1952) which hangs at the Thirtieth Street Station in Philadelphia.  The plaster cast hangs at the museum. 

Beginning in 2020-2021, the Museum sought to bring together community members across Cape Ann for its annual Community Art Exhibition.  The unique initiative provides an opportunity to celebrate student artwork alongside the museum’s collection, creating a juxtaposition of emerging and established artists’ works.  Last year, the exhibition was Quilted Together, featuring more than 637 self-portraits drawn by area residents of all ages during the pandemic.

In connection with Sculpting Self, the museum will be free for families during next week’s April school vacation week so they can see the exhibition.  

A free family tour on the Sculptors of Cape Ann will also be held on Saturday, May 28.  On Saturday, May 21, the scholar Meg Black, PhD, will present CAM Talks: Behind Walker Hancock’s sculptures, The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

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