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Stalin to join memorial

- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

LYNCHBURG, Va.

The hair is brushed back. The mustache thick and bushy. The eyes menacing. An infamous face from the 20th century is coming to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

Richard Pumphrey, a Lynchburg College professor and artist, recently completed a bust sculpture of Josef Stalin, the leader of the former Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953.

The reviled dictator is fourth in a series of Allied world leaders sculpted by the artist for display at the memorial because of their mutual opposition to Adolf Hitler's Germany.

Mr. Pumphrey has finished bronzed busts of Winston Churchill, Harry Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt - all now displayed at the memorial.

He said he hopes the Stalin sculpture will be installed later this year, by Veterans Day. His next project includes Clement Attlee - Churchill's successor - and Chiang Kai-shek, who led China's military.

Stalin stands out as the most notorious figure Mr. Pumphrey said he's had to create from clay.

"He was just a terrible person," he said. "So the challenge is to embody the terror he instilled."

Though he hasn't received any criticism personally, he said the National D-Day Memorial Foundation has fielded public questions over the purpose of placing the Stalin bust on the site.

He compared leaving Stalin out of the lineup of Allied leaders with not including Judas, the betrayer of Jesus Christ, in "The Last Supper" - a famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

"He's part of the narrative," Mr. Pumphrey said. "We may not like Stalin, but if he had not challenged Hitler on the Eastern Front, then victories on the Western Front may not have been possible."

William McIntosh, the memorial foundation's president, said the intent is not to portray Stalin as a hero, but rather as an ally who distracted German forces and played a part in the timing and unfolding of D-Day.

"He's a necessary addition," Mr. McIntosh said. "He certainly was a fact of life and a major ally during the Second World War - there's nothing about the presentation that's going to be flattering of Stalin."

Mr. McIntosh said the piece captures his "venomous energy - like a coiled snake ready to strike" - but at the same time is not a caricature.

Mr. Pumphrey, 57, was in his early years of college when he completed his first bust sculpture of a fellow classmate. As a Lynchburg resident for 28 years, he has sculpted many pieces, from religious symbols to portraits of children, professors and Martin Luther King.

Working periodically in his basement studio, he said he usually completes two sculptures a year. He researches historical figures through photographs, which allow him to engineer characteristics such as head shape, facial expressions, gestures, body mass and physical features.

The process requires developing "an intimate relationship" with the subject, he said - that proved stressful at times while working on Stalin because of his "heinous" personality. The dictator's "dark side" was something he said he never had to create before.

"You do get to know these characters very well," Mr. Pumphrey said. "I was angry every day I worked on him. Knowing how bad a guy he was, you've got to reveal it; you should feel the figures in addition to seeing them. You should sense their nature just by looking at them."

Kathryn, his wife, occasionally offers input on his sculptures.

"Sometimes I think they're going just great, and she'll come down here and straighten me out pretty quick," he said.

At one point during the creation of the Stalin bust, she voiced her opinion that she didn't think his eyes were sculpted in the right way.

"He looked too nice," Mrs. Pumphrey said of earlier versions of the bust. "When I saw the final product, Richard definitely captured the eyes. They are a little bit more sinister."

Mr. Pumphrey receives commissions from the memorial foundation to work on the sculptures through donations, he said.

Mr. McIntosh would not name the donor for the Stalin bust, referring to privacy issues since it has not been installed or dedicated yet. He did say it was an individual, and funding has been secured.

"We don't do anything until we have the money in hand," he said. "It's money that came from a designated place that has a certain purpose."

The minimum costs for the four sculptures so far is $50,000 each, Mr. McIntosh said. It covers Mr. Pumphrey's commission, the pedestal to place it on, a plaque and future maintenance.

The first bust was installed in 2008, several years after the memorial announced it was debt-free. The donations for the pieces help the memorial's bottom line in a time when it is struggling financially.

The memorial, which opened in 2001, is bleeding financially to the point that its leadership is urging lawmakers to declare it a national monument to avoid the prospect of closing.

The nonprofit has a $2.2 million yearly budget and pulls in about $600,000 from tours and ticket sales. The rest is generated through donations, which memorial officials said have suffered in the past few years because of rising gas prices and the downturn in the economy.

Mr. Pumphrey, who referred to the memorial as "a spiritual place" that impacts the quality of his work, said he has written to Gov. Tim Kaine and President Obama urging federal intervention.

"If this memorial were to not be recognized by the federal government as a national landmark, then it somehow, I think, would diminish the impression of respect this country has for those who fought that battle and who provided the turning point in the war," he said.

Using a line from Pablo Picasso on which sculpture is dearest to him, he replied, "the next one."

Will he miss Stalin?

"I'm going to be glad I'm not going to have to put my hands on him every day," Mr. Pumphrey said.