Filmmaker Eduardo Montes-Bradley Spotlights the Lincoln Memorial's Sculptor
In August, filmmaker Eduardo Montes-Bradley spent two weeks deep in the Berkshires at Chesterwood, the former home of the sculptor Daniel Chester French and a National Trust Historic Site. French may not be nearly as well-known as his crowning achievement—the monumental sculpture of our 16th president at the Lincoln Memorial. During his artist residency, Montes-Bradley lived in one of French’s studios and prepared to make a documentary about the sculptor, for which Chesterwood is currently raising funds.
How did this project come about?
I had previously worked with the historian Daniel Preston on a film about President James Monroe. Preston is the editor of Monroe’s papers and also is one of the curators of the papers of Daniel Chester French. He suggested making a documentary on French. I said, “Tell me more.” There’s never been a documentary on him. It’s the perfect time for one because the Lincoln Memorial will have its centennial in May of 2022. We are up against that deadline so have needed to move very fast.
How much of your film will focus on the Lincoln Memorial?
The Lincoln sculpture is the culmination of French’s work, which starts with the Minute Man statue in Concord, Massachusetts, continues with his formative time in Italy and [other parts of] Europe, and comes back to his commissions in America. That leads to his magnum opus, the Lincoln Memorial, which turns into the American shrine of democracy.
Do you agree that French is not widely known now?
Absolutely. I would go further. He lives in the shadows of the monument. I think he has been somewhat underrated. Bringing him to the surface will make American art history much richer. I’m really looking forward to drawing an accurate, honest portrayal of his life.
How does this project fit in with the other Films you’ve made on American artists?
It’s part of a continued soul-searching experience to discover America. I think of myself as a traveler through the cultural landscape who is trying to understand American political, cultural, and social life. This is a major step for me.
When did you first go to the Memorial?
In 1979, when I came to the United States from Argentina. When you first to come to America, that’s what you do! Then I made a film about Julian Bond, the Civil Rights leader, and we spent a whole day at the Lincoln Memorial. He pointed to where Sidney Poitier stood and where Martin Luther King Jr. stood the day of the March on Washington in 1963. It’s been in my mind for a long time.
What is it like to stay at Chesterwood?
French’s spirit is there. It’s a beautiful studio where he could roll statues out onto the balcony and look at them from the river to see what they would look like from below. I walk to the main studio every day. It’s very cool there. I look at the gardens.
How has your two-week residency there influenced your project?
You need to breathe the air he breathed, reflect in the room in which he carved, and look at the same mountain from the porch to begin to walk in his shoes. I feel better prepared for the task of doing right by him.
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