This is part four in Jon Harbuck’s series. – Editor
From the beginning, Dutch and I had agreed that the nearest marching soldiers — the full-round file — should reflect the spirit of the 54th’s enlisted soldiers. That brought to mind the movie “Glory,” one of the most memorable characters of which is played by Morgan Freeman: a hard-bitten camp servant who enlists in the regiment and is eventually promoted to Sergeant Major. I’ve always assumed that Freeman’s character was inspired by the bearded NCO marching behind the drummer in Saint-Gaudens’s Memorial. Whether my assumption is correct or pure fantasy, I decided the NCO should be prominently displayed. (One reason I “demoted” the drummer to the bas relief file was to have the NCO lead the near file instead.)
My plan was to convert castings from the excellent Shenandoah figure range. From the online catalog I found what looked to be a suitable pose, and secured five kits. But once I saw the casting my plan crashed into reality: from the side the figure appears to be strolling along a road rather than striding forward as depicted in the Memorial. And cutting up the castings to reposition the legs turned out to be like sawing through the wing root of an F-16. Shenandoah’s white metal is hard!
Resin is not hard. So I sent one of the kit torsos off to my friend Bob Stein to cast up in resin, and he returned several copies right away. These I sawed apart at the waist, the knees, and between the thighs (ugh!), carved down, then reassembled with paper clip wire and epoxy putty. Trouser legs were resculpted to more closely match those in the Memorial. The only other part of the kits that needed redoing were the knapsacks and blanket rolls. Shenandoah’s are fine, but I sculpted new ones more in the shape of those in the Memorial.
Shenandoah’s Civil War heads are second to none, and my grey army also includes a number of other African-American heads — Airfix, Scale Link, and Taxdir’s 54th Mass kit. Federal forage caps are an easy sculpt even for me, and the NCO’s beard was easier still.
Early in the project, I had calculated the working area needed for the scene and custom ordered a base from Al Presley. (Motto: “So much wood, so little time”) Once the base arrived, I pre-positioned the unpainted figures onto the working area. The purpose of this “dress rehearsal” was to make certain that all the figures would fit into the space available, that each would be easily visible to the viewer, and that they would compliment the Shaw figure and those on the background slab rather than obscure them. Using Plastruct, I fabricated a black plastic frame in a shape that suggests the Monument without copying it. The frame’s uprights and capitals were done first; the center arch was added by heating a plastic section in a warm oven, then allowing it to cool while draped over the curved side of my dog’s dinner dish.