- Also known as
- Richard Howard Hunt
- Date of birth
- Date of death
For seven decades, Richard Hunt used industrial materials and modern methods to sculpt organic forms and historical archetypes, such as freedom, flight, and progress. Galvanized by the Civil Rights movement, Hunt’s artwork can also be characterized by his deeply held personal values that he expressed through universal themes. One of his earliest works, Hero’s Head (1956, collection of the artist), was made in commemoration of the tragic murder of Emmett Till. Over Hunt’s lifetime, he became the most prolific sculptor of public artworks in America. Hero Ascending, one of his final works, will be installed at the Emmett Till/Mamie Till-Mobley historic home in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.
Born in Woodlawn, Hunt had an innate love of art that was nurtured by classes he took at Chicago’s South Side Community Art Center. In 1948, he enrolled in the Junior School of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and later attended SAIC on a scholarship (1953–57), where he focused on sculpture while earning his bachelor of arts in education. Inspired by Julio González and Pablo Picasso’s metal sculptures that he saw at the Art Institute of Chicago’s 1953 exhibition Sculpture of the Twentieth Century, Hunt taught himself how to solder and weld. He scavenged car parts, old pipe and other scrap metal from Chicago streets and junkyards, using a torch like a paintbrush in his “direct-welding” technique, to create work marked by a sense of transformation or motion.
By graduation, Hunt had been awarded the prestigious Logan and Palmer prizes, as well as the James N. Raymond Foreign Traveling Fellowship, which allowed him to visit England, France, Spain, and Italy. He returned to the US one year later, in 1958, after being drafted into the Army, and created Hero Construction, which the Art Institute acquired the same year.
In 1971, at age 35, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a midcareer survey of his work. This was also the year Hunt purchased a former electrical substation in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and transformed it into his studio. In turn, his work grew increasingly monumental, volumetric, and varied in media. With references to music, mythology, and African American history, as well as plant, animal, and human forms, Hunt continued his innovative mix of abstraction and representation.
In the intervening years, Hunt completed more than 160 public art commissions, many of which reside in Chicago. Each work equally considered the site, event, or person being commemorated, such as Flight Forms (2002) at Midway Airport; Eternal Flame of Hope (2018) at Soldier Field commemorating the Special Olympics; and The Light of Truth (2021) in the Bronzeville neighborhood, which recognizes Ida B. Wells. In addition to 18 honorary degrees, Hunt has held over 20 professorships, including at Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, and SAIC. On June 9, 2022, Hunt was the recipient of the Art Institute’s Legends and Legacy Award, and the city of Chicago declared the date Richard Hunt Day.