COMMANDING PRESENCE STANDING TALL AGAIN

The newest statue of Gen. Green ready to be unveiled, watch for Brits

By Donald W. Patterson
Staff Writer
Greensboro News & Record
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

  "He's got his game face on," says Jim Barnhill, the N.C. A&T sculptor who created him. "I made him a lean, mean fighting machine."

"He's got his game face on," says Jim Barnhill, the N.C. A&T sculptor who created him. "I made him a lean, mean fighting machine."

GREENSBORO — Don't be fooled by the double chin, the pigtail or the cute little ribbon holding it in place. Those are for historical accuracy.

Focus instead on the clenched right fist, the cock of the head, the look in the eyes. Those are there to frighten the British.

"He's got his game face on," says Jim Barnhill, speaking of the new statue of Gen. Nathanael Greene, the Revolutionary War hero and Greensboro namesake. "I made him a lean, mean, fighting machine."

Barnhill, a Greensboro sculptor, came up with the look one day last July after he stepped out of the shower. He stood in front of his mirror, struck a pose and decided: "There it is."

It came to him just days after a disaster.

 The Gen. Nathanael Greene statue is the second design sculptor Jim Barnhill created after the first full-size model he made collapsed last July.

The Gen. Nathanael Greene statue is the second design sculptor Jim Barnhill created after the first full-size model he made collapsed last July.

The Gen. Nathanael Greene statue is the second design sculptor Jim Barnhill created after the first full-size model he made collapsed last July.

Barnhill's original, full-size clay model of Greene had toppled backward — a pipe inside the piece apparently sheared off — and destroyed nearly two months of work.

So Barnhill started over, made some changes and now says he likes the second version better. So do those who've seen both.

"It's just a stronger image," said Jan Hensley, a friend of Barnhill's who has photographed the construction. "If it hadn't fallen, we would have had the other image. It's the philosophy that things happen for a reason."

The 11 1/2-foot-tall bronze statue, a bicentennial gift to the city from the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, will be unveiled at 6:30 p.m. today at the roundabout at Greene and McGee streets downtown.

The piece will honor the man who led American forces against Lord Charles, Earl Cornwallis and his British troops on March 15, 1781, at the Battle of Guilford Court-house.

Foundation leaders say the sculpture will cost between $165,000 and $175,000.

"It is extremely impressive," Jim Melvin, the foundation's president, said of the statue. "The general would be proud."

Last spring, the foundation selected Barnhill, an associate professor of art at N.C A&T, whose works include "February One." That sculpture, which stands on the A&T campus, depicts the four Aggie students who started the sit-in movement at the Greensboro Woolworth's lunch counter on Feb. 1,1960.

Barnhill, who started work on the Greene piece May 15, got assistance from officials at the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, which has its own statue of "the fighting Quaker" astride a horse.

That sculpture, dedicated on July 3, 1915, stands 14 feet high — taller than the one downtown, — and has become a symbol of Greensboro.

Park officials say they welcome the newcomer.

"I think it will provide a venue for a larger audience," said John Durham, the park historian. "Many people tell me they have lived in Greensboro all their lives and have never been to the (park). This is another way people can see General Greene and reflect on his contributions to America."

Barnhill wanted to depict Greene surveying the field of battle. Park officials provided him with details about what Greene would have worn and what he looked like.

He worked from a portrait by Charles Willson Peale, who did paintings of a number of Revolutionary War heroes, including George Washington.

Barnhill drew the image he wanted to sculpt, created an 18-inch model called a maquette and then set up his work space, a rented area in a boat shop on Holts Chapel Road.

There, he created a framework made of steel pipes, wrapped that in mesh, covered it all in clay and worked in the detail of the general's face and uniform.

In early July, a committee from the Bryan Foundation came by to check the progress.

"They were impressed," Barnhill recalled. "You could see it in their eyes."

Two days later, he found the statue on its back.

"I just walked out," he said. "I couldn't take it."

That's when Barnhill's friends tried to encourage him. Just make it better, they said.

"Easy for you to say," Barnhill thought. "(The original) was pretty darn good."

But then came his moment of inspiration.

In the first version, Barnhill had Greene looking straight ahead, shoulders square with his line of vision.

But standing in front of the mirror, Barnhill turned his head about 25 degrees to the right and broadened his stance.

"That changed everything," Barnhill said. "It made a huge difference in his countenance. He gained more of a determined look… 'I am going to get you, Cornwallis.'"

Barnhill went back to work. Two months later, he carried the first new molds to Carolina Bronze, a foundry in Seagrove, where craftsmen worked on the general for six months.

On Tuesday morning, a crane lifted the finished product into place atop a 10-foot pedestal in the center of the Greene-McGee traffic circle. The general faces north, looking up Greene.

"I think this is a good one," Barnhill said. "I think Greensboro is going to be proud."