University Park, IL,
15:41 PM

In Memoriam: Richard Hunt

A lifetime of artistic freedom expressed through metal

Artist Richard Hunt giving delivering a talk to Governors State University sculpture park guests

Richard Hunt, a founding artist of Governors State University’s (GovState) Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park (theNate), was a metal sculptor whose socially conscious spirit fueled a prolific art career spanning nearly seven decades. Hunt died in mid-December.

Self-described as a “fusion or harmonization of tensions between dualities,” Hunt's art plays on concepts like the organic and geometric, past and present, or traditional and contemporary – subjects that like two sides of a coin, are closely related yet different all the same.

Inspired by Spanish artists Julio Gonzalez and Pablo Picasso, and American Abstract Expressionist sculptor David Smith, Hunt’s artistic expression was also shaped by his experience attending the open-casket funeral of Emmett Till.

Till was a 14-year-old who was abducted, tortured, and lynched in Mississippi after allegedly flirting with a white woman. The experience not only influenced Hunt’s art, but also his commitment to the cause of Civil Rights, which was depicted and honored in many pieces of his work.

“His pieces have a social justice message in them,’’ said Jeff Stevenson, Director & Curator of the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park & Visual Arts at GovState. “There are often themes of flight and freedom weaved in.”

The image of wings is apparent in Hunt’s  “Large Planar Hybrid,’’  an original piece at theNate that reflects, according to the website “Hunt’s unique vision and mature style in his combination of biomorphic and geometric abstraction. He often employs bird-like forms in reference to the freedom they represent, their presence in mythological themes (eg: Icarus, the Ginnever sculpture at the north entrance), and their historical resonance with the African-American experience.”

“Large Planar Hybrid” sits close to the university’s main entrance next to “Outgrown Pyramid II,” another Hunt original, and together they have created a popular draw to theNate where their arrival in 1973.

For these artworks' 50-year- anniversary in 2023, theNate celebrated Hunt and his work at their annual “Sculpture Wine & Dine” benefit with a special gallery exhibition and reception, which Hunt attended. In 2015, the artist celebrated his 80th birthday with a special exhibition in the Visual Arts Gallery and theNate. This year, theNate will pay tribute to Hunt at their Juneteenth Summer Solstice Celebration on June 20.

Hunt’s relationship with GovState extended beyond theNate. In 1997, he received an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, from the university.

Over his lifetime, Hunt held over 150 solo exhibitions and featured in more that 100 public museums all over the world. More locally, he has more than 160 public sculpture commissions spread throughout the United States in prominent locations in 24 states and Washington, D.C. 

For all of Hunt’s recognition throughout his life, some of his art is set to be displayed posthumously, one of them being “Book Bird,” a sculpture of a bird perched on a book, commissioned by former President Barack Obama for the Obama Presidential Center, projected to open in 2025.

Most recently, Hunt completed a sculptural model for a monument to fellow Chicagoan, Till, “Hero Ascending,” to be installed this year at Till’s childhood home on Chicago's South Side, which brings a full circle moment.

Stevenson said Hunt’s work reflects core values at the Sculpture Park.

“His work resonates with theNate, where we try to do the most good with what we have for the communities we serve, and in the end it's up to us to pick up where he left off."