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Stephanie Hunter: Sculpting a pioneer of women’s suffrage

Stephanie Hunter, a Surprise artist who specializes in bronze statues, has been commissioned to create a sculpture of women suffrage leader Frances Willard Munds. PHOTO BY JULIA SHUMWAY/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Stephanie Hunter, a Surprise artist who specializes in bronze statues, has been commissioned to create a sculpture of women suffrage leader Frances Willard Munds. PHOTO BY JULIA SHUMWAY/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Frances Willard Munds doggedly lobbied the Arizona Territorial Legislature to recognize women’s right to vote, then turned her attention to winning at the ballot box when the territorial governor objected, fearing it would jeopardize Arizona’s bid for statehood. Months after Arizona finally became a state, the voters – all men – overwhelmingly embraced women’s suffrage.

Next year, a century after women nationwide won the right to vote and 108 years after Munds’ work succeeded in Arizona, the Arizona Women’s History Alliance hopes to unveil a bronze sculpture of Munds at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. A law passed this year gave the group permission to install the sculpture, and the alliance so far has collected $30,000 of the $250,000 needed to pay for the creation, installation and ongoing maintenance of the statue.

The group also found a sculptor: Stephanie Hunter, a Surprise artist who specializes in bronze statues and already has her living room studio prepared to craft a memorial to Munds.

When you set out to make a piece like this sculpture of Frances Willard Munds, what does the process look like for you?

First is brainstorming. Brainstorming the composition, which is the most important part. Coming up with something that looks dynamic, that conveys movement, that conveys what we want to say about Frances, which was her determination, her strength and her resolve. Once I do that, I usually collaborate with my husband and we come up with a design.

How did you decide what you wanted Frances to look like? The maquette shows her standing with a flag, with a ballot box nearby.

We had the ballot box in because we wanted it to represent the 1912 victory that she won for women’s right to vote in Arizona. The flag is plain because it was a common symbol in the suffrage movement. That way it could represent all of the women. It’s heavy, and it’s behind her. She’s now bringing it forward into the future. She’s also marching forward because she’s continuing to hand out ballots and she’s continuing to pursue her march toward women’s equality.

There are so many statues and busts of political figures. How do you make something that’s unique and different and will catch people’s eyes? 

With her, I think I’m really proud of the composition. I’m proud of the flag because the flag is not only going to be an eye catcher. Somebody’s going to see it and walk over to it for a reason … The ballot box will help educate the public about the importance of 1912. And Frances will be there in all her glory, with all her delicious details. She liked to get dressed up with her big hats. She’ll be there, looking forward toward the Capitol. She’ll be in the perfect spot.

When you were doing your research into Frances and deciding how you wanted to depict her, what did you learn about her that you were most fascinated by?

She was a mother, as well, and that was something I could really relate to because I am a mother. I was also really impressed that she was a senator, that she went on to become an Arizona state senator. It was impressive that one woman can do a lot.

We talked about how you come up with the ideas, but what does actually making the statue entail? 

[She gestures to a nearby table, where clay in the rough shape of a man’s bust is formed around metal] It will start with this, with the armature, which is just the metal base. I’m just starting this one. This is for the Air Force for a guy who died, Tony Campbell. And then I’ll do clay, and it will end up like this. [She gestures toward a second table, where a completed clay bust of a man, Myers, in a military uniform rests.] After that, I take it to the foundry. The foundry makes a mold of it, they break apart the mold and they put wax into it. They break it up, and now you have a wax of one of these. They take that, and then they put it into something called shell, which is kind of like a liquid glass, and they make a quick coating for it, harden it in a kiln, melt out the wax, and now I have a hollow receptacle of the sculpture. Into that, they pour liquid bronze. After that, they chip away the shell and then we have bronze, and it’s cleaned up and then patinated or colored. And then it’s done.

Of all of the sculptures that you’ve created over the years, is there one that’s meant the most to you?

My mother. She was my first one. She sat for me for four hours. She was getting over cancer, and I did that at Scottsdale Community College, where I met my husband, so it’s very special to me. I’m happy I have her now. And with that sculpture, I realized I really could get a likeness of a person. It encouraged me to put out a website and it encouraged me to pursue this as a career.

Beyond having the maquette, where are you in the process of sculpting Frances?

Right now, I’m in the process of just researching. Researching the ballot box, researching and getting her dress together, getting a model together, getting her hat to get a photoshoot so I can accurately sculpt her. That’s part of my sculpting process, so I can have pictures all around that help me to get her accurately portrayed.

And you do all of your sculpting right here in your living room? 

I do. I did First Lady Ellen Wilson for her hometown in Georgia, and she was right here. I had just had a baby when I had her here, and one of my other children came down in the middle of the night and decided he was going to work on her a bit. So he took some tools and was going into her skirt. I woke up the next morning, and it was like “Oh honey, oh honey.” It was an easy fix, but it was cute that they want to help. It’s cute that they’re going to have memories of her being here.

It means a lot to me to be able to do this for my children, and to have something in the city I’m in. They take field trips down to the Capitol now, and it will be amazing when they go down and see Frances, who used to be in the living room.

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