Jud Nelson remembers Walter (Fritz) Mondale upon his death at age 93.
“I woke up this morning to see all of these photos of Fritz in the news, shot from every angle and thought, ‘I love you.’” The obituaries of Walter Mondale with their accompanying photos reminded sculptor Jud Nelson of his 1982 commission to carve a marble bust of Vice President Mondale for the U.S. Capitol.
We had a photographer take multiple photos of Mondale while I measured his head and face for reference in order to carve the bust. I had to concentrate on every angle of Mondale’s face, head and shoulders. My first step was to sculpt a clay model that I worked on for three months before Mondale returned to my studio. Well, much to my surprise, Mondale walks in as a much thinner
man. He had been dieting those three months and my reference photos of him were obsolete!
Mondale looks at the clay model and said “My neck doesn’t look like that!” I started pulling clay off of the model to represent the thinner Mondale and basically had to start over. Regardless, hefty or slender, I had to capture Mondale.
While working on the commission, Fritz and I spent a lot of time together and realized we shared many similarities – we had fathers that were preachers and we loved to fish.
Mondale periodically visited Nelson’s studio, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to model and check on the progress of his bust. At that time, Greenpoint was a crowded, working class neighborhood full of Polish immigrants. Mondale and Nelson would walk all over Greenpoint, going into stores and restaurants, talking to everybody they met. Mondale genuinely enjoyed people.
Mondale had an agenda for the sculpture, a smile on his face. As a minister’s kid, he knew a smile means “I love you”.
“It was an honor to know Walter Mondale and work with him on his bust.” Nelson adds, “May he rest in peace.”