2017-09-07 / News

Local sculptor’s installation to feature UAW workers

By Paula K. Schmidt
810-452-2647 • pschmidt@mihomepaper.com

A 1930’s era auto worker holds a plaque commemorating the labor of many in the burgeoning auto industry. 
Photos provided by artist A 1930’s era auto worker holds a plaque commemorating the labor of many in the burgeoning auto industry. Photos provided by artist GRAND BLANC — Most residents may be unaware our community boasts an award-winning, classically trained sculptor whose work is installed all over the world, and will soon be featured in a new installation at Flint City Hall meant to honor the history of auto industry workers.

“I was honored to be chosen by a private donor on behalf of the UAW, to create these two monumental sculptures that serve to memorialize all the workers of Flint over the last hundred years,” Suzanne Johnson explained.

Both sculptures focus on the historical timeframe of 1930 when the automotive industry was truly exciting and growing, she added. It was designed to give a glimpse into the working factory; one of the figures actively lifting a door in preparation for assembly onto the auto body, and the other depicting a worker holding a sign that acknowledges and thanks the workers from the past as well as the present.

The donor, who would like to remain anonymous, commissioned the work and gave Johnson a list of requirements to fulfill, specifically requesting the sculptures be full of life and not stiff or robotic in nature.

“I was delighted to accept this commission,” Johnson said. “I absolutely love to infuse my work with a sense of motion. True life is always in flux, even when standing still, our muscles move as we breathe.”

She said it was an equally difficult and exciting task to show the other sculpture standing still as a living breathing citizen, calling on her extensive education and knowledge of bone and muscle structure as well as motion dynamics.

“Along with showing motion, one of my goals was to capture a sense of strength, dignity and integrity within the sculptures,” Johnson stated. The sculptures were modeled after two workers who fit the descriptions of the time frame in build and style she said, giving her living models to work from.

Her Grand Blanc studio is full of bronze busts of famous figures of history, so living models were definitely a change of pace for her.

“It was wonderful to work from life! It reminded me of my sculpture training in France,” Johnson said.

Like many residents can claim, she had family members who were in the UAW, so she was proud to be able to feature that part of the country’s history.

“The great importance of this monument, to me, is the fact that they were such an integral part — the backbone of the automotive industry in Michigan — they’re the unsung heroes, and I think it’s important to recognize that and ensure they aren’t forgotten or overlooked,” Johnson said.

Depending on how you count the steps, the process of creating a similar sculpture is about seven to nine steps to the finished work, according to Johnson. However, these two sculptures took a combined total of one and a half years to complete from concept, meetings with the donor on details and approvals, and on to the finished bronze works.

Johnson sets herself a very high standard in all her artworks, both sculpture and jewelry, hoping to create works which are timeless and meaningful. Within Genesee County, her sculptures are: The Violinist and a bronze of Maestro Enrique Diemecke at the Flint Institute of Music, a bronze of Professor Bell at Kettering University, and the four Monumental Sculpted Angels (stone reliefs) for the Chapel of Angels at Sunset Hills Cemetery.

In addition, she is currently completing a sculpture commission of a war veteran and several other projects.

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