HARRY TRUMAN SCULPTOR APPEARS IN KEY WEST DURING PRESIDENTS’ WEEKEND EVENTS

Artist Tom Corbin works with clay during the process of creating his monumental bronze sculpture of the 33rd U.S. President. CORBIN BRONZE/Contributed

Tom Corbin’s art works are found in public, private and corporate collections, but his most outstanding accomplishment is the larger-than-life bronze statue of the 33rd U.S. president, Harry S. Truman, which was unveiled at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., in September 2022. 

On Sunday, Feb. 18, from 10 a.m. to noon, the Key West Harry S. Truman Foundation will host the master artist for a presentation at the Harry S. Truman Little White House, 111 Front St. Corbin will discuss the tools, research and processes he used for his bronze undertaking and answer audience questions. His presentation is a feature of this year’s Presidential Families Weekend events.

Based in Rosedale, Kansas, Corbin’s studio and gallery are housed in a historic 1912 firehouse. 

Ahead of his Key West appearance, the artist agreed to answer a few questions about how he got from “there” to “here.”

Can you describe what motivated you to explore your artistic potential? Growing up with a mother who taught elementary school art, I was exposed to a number of disciplines. Continually drawing for my own pleasure through high school and college, I never considered art seriously as a vocation. I assumed it would be a nice hobby.

A variety of traditional sales jobs followed college graduation. My yearning for more creative employment eventually led me into the advertising business. A friend at the agency introduced me to a bronze sculptor who was holding classes out of her home on Wednesday nights. Just for something different, I decided to attend.

Your Harry S. Truman bronze statue is 8 feet tall – 11 feet if you count the pedestal. Had you ever created a human sculpture prior to this, and one of this scale? I have done a number of life-size and monumental human sculptures during my 37-year career. Soldiers, firemen, dancers, you name it. But I have never been involved with a commission of this significance and social impact. It has been such an honor.

You were one of multiple artists invited to submit sculpture proposals. What are one or two features of yours that you feel were key to you winning the commission? Through my research of Truman, I discovered that he truly considered himself a common man. He lacked pretense, was quick to shake your hand and relished a brisk walk around the White House or his home in Independence, Missouri. In addition to studying Harry, I also examined the existing sculptures in Statuary Hall, many of which seemed stoic and unapproachable. I wanted my Truman model to display just the opposite: relaxed and in motion, as if to greet you. To accomplish this, I have the president descending a set of stairs with his smile intact.

How long did it take for you to create the monument, from beginning to end and what was your biggest challenge? From being awarded the commission to unveiling Harry took four years. The actual time I spent sculpting the 8-foot Harry was about a year. The remaining time included molding, casting and waiting for approvals at each stage of development both on the state and federal level. The biggest challenge was the ability to please all the individuals involved whose approval was required. Also, patience was a necessity. 

The Presidential Families Weekend and Tom Corbin’s event are presented with the support of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.  For tickets and more information visit www.trumanlittlewhitehouse.org/foundation/events/