Sharing James Madison and the History of the Commonwealth

Bust, President James Madison

"Learned institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty" - James Madison 

Hampden-Sydney College has joined in a replica project with The Colonnade Club, University of Virginia, and The Montpelier Foundation, Montpelier Station, VA, that enables all three institutions to share a unique piece of art, a memorial of a legendary man in the history of Virginia and the United States. 

The College owns the only existing replica of the original life-size marble bust of President James Madison by Frederick William Sievers, given to the State Capitol in 1931. The Hampden-Sydney bust was originally part of a campaign to create exact plaster replicas of all presidential busts in the State Capitol, for display at the Jamestown Festival in 1957, the 350 th anniversary of the founding of Virginia. The plaster copies remained on display at Jamestown until the early 1990's, when they were distributed to other Virginia collections; the plaster busts of James Madison and William Henry Harrison replicas were transferred to Hampden-Sydney College in 1992, because of their connections with College. James Madison was an official Trustee of Hampden-Sydney College, 1775- 1820, but there is no record that he ever attended a meeting; however, he was of assistance to the College. Harrison was a member of the Class of 1791. The busts are on display in the College Museum. 

Since the General Assembly declined to give permission to make additional replicas from its marble bust, and Hampden-Sydney owned the only copy, the next best thing was to turn to Hampden-Sydney to acquire copies of the copy. Tracy Kamerer, Curator of the State Art Collections, explained, "It is far safer to make a copy from plaster than from a marble, and since Hampden-Sydney's is an exact replica of our bust, and the only one, the results should be fine." 

The Colonnade Club, a Faculty Club of the University of Virginia, proposed that a replica would be an important step in the historic restoration of Pavilion VII, begun in 1999, where it would join those of Presidents Jefferson and Monroe, already on display in the Pavilion, one of the cornerstone buildings of the University of Virginia. A second replica would be displayed in the Alderman Library, the Main Library of the University of Virginia. 

When Madison retired in 1817 from his second term as President of the United States, he became the second Rector of the University of Virginia (1826-1834), following Thomas Jefferson, its founder. Madison is known as the "Unsung Hero" of the University of Virginia. In his will, Madison left $1,500 (equivalent to $24,000 today) to establish the Library's first endowment, which still provides funds annually for purchase of books. In addition, he also willed the contents of his own personal library to enlarge the University's collections. Two buildings at the University of Virginia are named after James Madison: Madison Hall and Madison House. Madison Hall serves as the office for the President of the University as well as of the Executive Vice President. Madison House is a non-profit student volunteer center, which promotes leadership development, inspires volunteer service, and cultivates relationships between UVA students and the surrounding community. 

The Montpelier Foundation, steward of Montpelier, the historic plantation home of James and Dolley Madison, also recognized that having several reproductions of the Madison bust would greatly benefit their operation, serving to enhance the Montpelier Mansion as well as other buildings throughout the property, such as the Visitors Center, Constitutional Center, and Education Building. Montpelier was home to three generations of Madisons-beginning in 1723, when the land was first deeded to Madison's grandfather, Ambrose Madison, until 1844, when Madison's wife, Dolley, sold the estate. The core of the present house was completed around 1760 by Madison's parents, Col. James Madison and Nelly Conway. James Madison, Jr., was nine years old when his family moved into the new home, which began as a simple eight-room brick house. 

In the winter of 2002, Scott McKee, Conservator of Sculpture in Architecture, Fredericksburg, VA, began the first steps in the process of creating a mold from which the copies would be made. Encased within a wooden frame, the Madison bust lay on its back while McKee began the process of creating a rubber mold (See photo #1). Layer after layer of liquid urethane rubber was poured over the surface, like caramel sauce over vanilla ice cream, until the entire bust looked like a delicious dessert for 100 people (See photo #5). When the mold was finished on Christmas Eve, the work had still hardly begun.

Click on a small image below for a larger view.

Madison bust encased within a wooden frame, the first steps in the process of creating a rubber mold.   Sculptor, Scott McKee, of Fredericksburg, VA, prepares the bust before adding the layers of liquid rubber that will become the mold.     The first layers of liquid urethane rubber is poured over the surface of the bust.
Layer after layer of liquid urethane rubber is poured over the surface of the bust like a caramel sauce over vanilla ice cream.   The final layer of liquid urethane rubber is smeared over the surface, like icing on a cake, where it will set until it is dry.  The dry rubber mold will then be brushed with layers of acrylic modified gypsum cement.'

McKee transported the work to his studio in Fredericksburg to continue the process. "For each copy of the bust, halves of the mold will be brushed with layers of acrylic modified gypsum cement, a type of plaster that does not use water and is therefore less likely to shrink or rot," says McKee. When the plaster layer is thick enough, McKee will reinforce it with fiberglass mat, and then assemble the halves. Even at that stage, "There is lots more work," he said. 

In April 2003, the first casting (or prototype) was complete and was delivered to Hampden-Sydney for viewing and final approval from Montpelier and The Colonnade Club. The first casting is the most important, as it is the best opportunity to make changes before the final copies are made. Both institutions were pleased with the results and McKee was given permission to go ahead with the copies. The Montpelier Foundation will receive five copies of the Madison bust to display throughout Madison's historic mansion, offices, and visitor's center. The Colonnade Club will receive two copies of the bust, one to be joined with those of Presidents Jefferson and Monroe in Pavilion VII, and one to be displayed in the Alderman Library. 

The Madison replica project has been a tremendous educational adventure that has benefited all our institutions, allowing us to grow professionally and build closer relationships, while sharing a legendary man in the founding of our nation and the history of the commonwealth. From his lifelong home at Montpelier, to the glory of the White House, and on to the University of Virginia, James Madison spent a lifetime dedicated to public service. For more than forty years he worked for American Independence, helping to establish the government of a new nation (his fellow founders called him the "Father of the Constitution"), and participating in that government as Congressman, Secretary of State, and then as fourth President of the United States. After retirement from the Presidency the last years of his life were dedicated to nourishing Thomas Jefferson's vision of higher education at the University of Virginia, where (as he had done at Hampden-Sydney College) he helped prepare a healthy environment for students to learn their responsibilities as citizens of the new Republic.