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Sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington’s “landmark” works on display at Torggler Fine Arts Center

A 1915 painting of Anna Hyatt Huntington modeling Joan of Arc.
Courtesy of the Collection of the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College
A 1915 painting of Anna Hyatt Huntington modeling Joan of Arc.

“A Grand Menagerie” is the most comprehensive display of Anna Hyatt Huntington’s work in nearly a century.

Prolific American sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington feared complete satisfaction.

“Then I will know that I am no longer an artist,” remarked the 20th-century pioneer.

Hyatt Huntington’s evocative figures comprise the exhibition “A Grand Menagerie” at the Mary M. Torggler Fine Arts Center on the campus of Christopher Newport University in Newport News.

The 89 pieces curated from 32 nationwide lenders form the most comprehensive display of Hyatt Huntington’s contributions in nearly a century.

“I hope people will realize how fortunate we are to have these landmark works, many that define our community, by this incredibly talented international artist,” said Holly Koons, executive director of the Torggler.

“This is a burst of cultural pride. She deserves much more attention than she has been given.”

A first peek into the exhibit confirms Hyatt Huntington’s affinity for domestic and wild animals.

As a teen, when her intensity for studying the violin waned, she replaced it working with her hands in a different way — sculpting clay.

Like her father, a professor of paleontology and zoology, Hyatt Huntington was drawn to the scientific observation of animals.

This ability, along with a photographic memory, led to the jarring detail of her sculptures, ranging from desk-size collectibles to grand monuments.

Mesmerized by the movement of animals, she delighted in capturing those awkward moments a less discerning eye would dismiss.

Three renditions of “Tiger Yawning” catch the panther in a full-body stretch, feet extended on both ends.

A similar character defines “Fly Time,” a bronze sculpture of a foal scratching his neck, and “Mother Bear and Cub at Play,” as fun as it sounds.

“She sculpted what we would otherwise see as ordinary,” Koons said.

Hyatt Huntington’s hours of observation at animal shows and zoos give her work an uncanny realism.

The self-taught artist born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, never tired of sculpting horses.

Her most famous piece, a life-size Joan of Arc wearing armor aboard a steed, was unveiled in Manhattan in 1915.

The Torggler exhibit contains two smaller renditions of that first public monument to a woman in New York City.

“She made seven models before she arrived at the final version of the composition,” Koons said. “She worked on that piece for a long time because it was a watershed moment.”

An earlier version entered in the Paris Salon drew an honorable mention, though judges were skeptical of a woman completing such a massive project.

Peninsula natives typically associate the name Huntington with Huntington Ingalls, the nation’s largest military shipbuilding company, founded by Anna’s father-in-law, Collis P. Huntington. His stepson, Archer, married Anna in 1923.

By then, Anna was 47 and an established figure in the arts world. Her annual income had exceeded $50,000 for more than a decade.

Continuing her career was non-negotiable, and Archer encouraged it. His enormous wealth freed her from financial worry, enabling her to donate nearly all of her work after that.

Much of that work can be found in Newport News.

Archer founded the Mariners’ Museum and Anna created multiple works on the grounds, including the Lions Bridge sculptures, four larger-than-life cats between Mariners’ Lake and the James River.

As the bridge is less than two miles from the Torggler, it’s tempting to drive past for a closer glimpse. The lions are currently under cover due to ongoing construction.

While the exhibit is entirely within the confines of the Anne Noland Edwards Gallery, the pieces that are garden sculptures benefit from a clever layout that mimics the outdoors.

It’s meant to represent Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina, the country’s first outdoor sculpture museum founded by Archer and filled with Anna’s work.

Hyatt Huntington continued to sculpt well into her 90s, and despite changing tastes toward the abstract and avant-garde, never veered in a direction she found distasteful.

“A Grand Menagerie” is free and on view through Oct. 6, 2024. Tours are offered every other Thursday at noon. Tour days are June 13 and 27, July 11 and 25, Aug. 8 and 22, Sept. 5 and 19 and Oct. 3. For more information, visit the Torggler Fine Arts Center website.

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