Highly regarded Black sculptor Richard Hunt was born on the South Side of Chicago in 1935. With the encouragement of his family, Hunt took an early interest in the arts, attending classical concerts and operas with his mother, who was a librarian. Simultaneously, Hunt learned to draw, paint, and sculpt. In his teens, he devoted himself to sculpture exclusively, honing his skills in a studio in the basement of his father's barbershop. Although Hunt began working with clay and wood, he quickly gravitated toward metal as his fundamental medium. From 1953 to 1957, Hunt studied welding and lithography at the Art Institute of Chicago. His early work included discernible figures and touched on classical themes. During his junior year, the Museum of Modern Art in New York bought Hunt's sculpture, Arachne, a welded steel mythological spider.
After graduation, Hunt studied art in Europe on a fellowship and became even more committed to working with metal throughout his career. Upon his return to America, Hunt sought out scrap metal from junkyards to convert to art. Some of his welded sculptures from this period were eventually shown at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, where Hunt was the youngest artist featured. In 1967, Hunt produced his first public art project, Play, commissioned by the State of Illinois Public Art Program. Soon thereafter, President Lyndon Johnson named Hunt to the governing board of the National Endowment for the Arts. Hunt has also held advisory roles for the Smithsonian Institution and received multiple honorary degrees.
Over the past fifty years, Hunt has sculpted in excess of 125 public works, including Jacob's Ladder at the Carter G. Woodson Library in Chicago and Flintlock Fantasy in Detroit. Now in his late eighties, Hunt still pursues his labor of love in the cavernous welding studio (a former electrical substation) in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood that he first repurposed in 1974. For Hunt, sculpting metal combines the physical with the metaphysical and allows him to comment on social issues with bold statements in the public square. In late 2020 and throughout much of 2021, the Art Institute of Chicago held a retrospective exhibition and celebration entitled, Richard Hunt: Scholar's Rock or Stone of Hope or Love of Bronze, with works dating from the 1970s to the present.
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